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Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that results when natural gas and other fuels burn without sufficient oxygen.
Carbon monoxide is an asphyxiate and prevents needed oxygen from traveling throughout the body. Carbon monoxide combines more readily with hemoglobin (blood) than oxygen, thus disrupting oxygen transport. Carbon monoxide levels in the blood vary with carbon monoxide exposure levels, length of exposure and physiological factors.
Elevated levels of carbon monoxide can cause illness and even death. The elderly and persons with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases are particularly sensitive to elevated levels of carbon monoxide.
Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, headaches, and fatigue; these symptoms are often mistaken for the flu. Persons exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide need fresh air immediately and should be removed from the hazardous environment.
If you suspect elevated levels of carbon monoxide are in your home and you feel ill, you should go to a neighbor’s house and call 911. The fire department will test for levels of elevated carbon monoxide in your home to determine if it is safe to re-enter.
The most effective way of determining whether there are elevated levels of carbon monoxide in your home is to purchase and install carbon monoxide detectors. There are two basic types of carbon monoxide detectors, plug-in or AC units, and battery operated units. Both alert you to the presence of carbon monoxide.
Plug-in units operate by heating a metal-oxide sensor, which reacts with carbon monoxide. When this type of unit detects carbon monoxide, the alarm sounds, but resets a few minutes after gas dissipates. Plug-in units can plug directly in a wall socket or utilize a power cord. If the unit has a power cord, it should be placed high on a wall, as close to the ceiling as possible.
The battery-operated unit has a disk that darkens from prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide, air pollution, high humidity and household vapors. The infrared sensor in the unit senses the change in the color and sounds the alarm. It is important to remember that the battery and sensor units need to be replaced every two years.
Carbon monoxide detectors can be purchased at general retail and hardware stores. If you have additional concerns about a particular brand, you can call the manufacturer.
Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in a hallway between bedrooms and the rest of the house. Additional detectors can be placed near every sleeping and living area. Do not place the carbon monoxide detectors in a room with a furnace! Do not place the detector in the kitchen or garage!
Effective ways to prevent a build-up of carbon monoxide in your home are to:
Activities that contribute to elevated levels of carbon monoxide in the home should always be avoided. These include: