What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an invisible, odourless, tasteless & extremely toxic gas. CO is a result of incomplete combustion of fossil-fuels such as natural gas, bottled gas, solid fuels (wood, coal etc). CO is absorbed by the red blood cells in the lungs in preference to oxygen, resulting in oxygen starvation & rapid damage to the heart & brain.
Here are a few UK statistics that will set the alarm bells ringing:
23 deaths from Carbon Monoxide poisoning in 2009/2010
176 near misses from Carbon Monoxide poisoning in 2009/2010
72% of Gas Safe (formally CORGI) registered engineers discovered a Carbon Monoxide leak when performing routine services on appliances
40% of recorded Carbon Monoxide incidents were caused by bad installation and repair of appliances
However, incidents of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are often unrecorded as they can easily be misdiagnosed – low level exposure to Carbon Monoxide results in symptoms similar to flu. Due to this the actual number of poisoning incidents is almost certainly much higher than the figures shown above.
CO is produced by any fossil-fuel burning appliances such as gas or oil boilers/furnaces, gas/solid fuel fireplaces, gas appliances, solid fuel stoves etc. Heavy doses of CO will cause a person to collapse & die within minutes [see adjoining table]. Lesser doses of CO may cause flue-like symptoms, headaches, drowsiness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting [see table below].
Sources of Carbon Monoxide
If a home has any of these appliances it is a potential source of Carbon Monoxide.
Toxic amounts of CO can be produced if there is:
An appliance not working correctly due to poor installation, lack of servicing or blocked chimney or flue.
Inadequate ventilation, resulting in insufficient oxygen for the fuel to burn properly.
A cracked chimney or flue.
Where to place Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Table A Effects of Cumulative CO Exposure
CO ppmInhalation Time (approx) and Symptoms Developed
35The maximum allowable concentration for continuous exposure in any 8-hour period according to OSHA**.
150Slight headache after 1.5 hours.
200Slight headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea after 2-3 hours.
400Frontal headaches within 1-2 hours, life threatening after 3 hours.
800Dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes.Unconsciousness within 2 hours. Death within 2-3 hours.
1,600Headache, dizziness and nausea within 20minutes. Death within 1 hour.
3,200Headache, dizziness and nausea within 5-10 minutes. Death within 25-30 minutes.
6,400Headache, dizziness and nausea within 1-2 minutes. Death within 10-15 minutes.
12,800Death within 1-3 minutes.
OSHA ** Occupationalppm
Safety & Health Associationparts per million
If the CO Alarm gives a warning you MUST believe that Carbon Monoxide is present (because it is invisible, odourless & tasteless you cannot verify!) and you MUST take immediate corrective action. [see panel below “What to do if Carbon Monoxide is detected”].
What do you do if Carbon Monoxide is detected
Turn off all fuel burning appliances
Open doors and windows to ventilate.
Leave the property.
Contact your appliance service company
If in doubt contact the emergency services for advice
Don’t re-enter the property until the alarm has stopped
Don’t use appliances until checked by a qualified person.