Recently I saw an article on my NewsFeed of a young man who had been sleeping in a camper trailer and was suspected of dying from carbon monoxide poisoning. It reminded me of a similar situation more locally of a young man who died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning while night calving and staying in a camper trailer with a propane heater. The Center for Disease Control reports that from 1999 – 2010, there were an average of 430 deaths per year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning in the U.S. and more than 20,000 Americans go to the ER each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning. With carbon monoxide poisoning often being related to malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances, I thought with our current weather it would be fitting to talk a bit about carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. It is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, charcoal or coal burn. Sources for carbon monoxide in the house could be operating a BBQ grill in an enclosed area, an improperly installed or faulty gas clothes dryer, furnace, or water heater, an improperly installed or faulty gas oven, range, or cooktop vent, an unvented space heater, a clogged or blocked chimney opening, etc.
Carbon monoxide enters the lungs and bloodstreams where it binds to hemoglobin 200 times easier than oxygen does, displacing the oxygen in the bloodstream. Symptoms from carbon monoxide poisoning can be mistaken for the flu as they include headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, and fainting. At high levels, unconsciousness and death can occur, and if someone is asleep they may never wake up to know they have the symptoms of the poisoning.
Winter snows can increase potential danger from carbon monoxide poisoning as snows can create drifts that block furnace and dryer exhaust vents forcing the gas back into the homes. If you are visiting a cabin that has been snowed in, make sure to check the vents and exhaust pipes and chimneys before entering the house. If using a space heater, they should only be used when someone is awake and there definitely needs to be airflow in and out of the room where they are located. If using an emergency generator, they should be at least 20 feet from windows and doors and not used in a garage or basement.
Lastly, battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors should be installed on each floor of your home and near every sleeping area in your home and the detectors should be checked regularly to be sure they are functioning properly. If you will be staying in a camper, cabin, etc., make sure those have carbon monoxide alarms as well. In addition, make sure to never leave a vehicle running inside a garage or use gasoline-powered engines indoors or near windows either.