Carbon Monoxide—The Silent Killer


EVERY year about 50 people in Britain die of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty home heating appliances. “After asbestos, carbon monoxide is the most common single cause of poisoning at work and in the home,” reports London Hazards Centre Trust. What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is formed when incomplete combustion occurs, whether in an automobile engine or in heating appliances that burn coal or other fossil fuels, especially gas. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. So how does it kill?

Red blood cells carry vital oxygen to the body’s tissues. The toxicity of carbon monoxide lies in the fact that it is absorbed by red blood cells in preference to oxygen. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs as the body becomes starved of oxygen. Exposure to low emissions of carbon monoxide over a period of time can result in permanent brain damage. Symptoms include headache, drowsiness, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and fainting—and in severe cases, weak pulse, coma, and respiratory failure. If a person is suddenly overcome, prompt administration of oxygen and respiratory assistance are essential before asphyxiation—insufficient oxygen reaching the brain—causes death.

What can be done to avert the dangers of carbon monoxide? Have all appliances fitted and checked regularly by an expert. If a gas flame burns yellow rather than blue, consider it a warning of irregular burning and possible carbon monoxide emissions. Domestic carbon monoxide alarms of different types are now available. Never become complacent when using appliances that can emit carbon monoxide.

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Irregular flame

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Normal flame

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Domestic carbon monoxide alarms of different types are now available