16 Nov 2015

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims about 4,000 lives

16 Nov 2015

Carbon monoxide poisoning claims about 4,000 lives a year in the U.S. (figures for SA not available). In addition, about 10,000 people are made ill by lower levels of exposure to carbon monoxide (US).

What is it?

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion. The less complete the burning (combustion), the more carbon monoxide is generated. One of the reasons carbon monoxide is so deadly is that you generally can’t see or smell it: rarely do its victims have any warning. Low levels of poisoning tend to cause flu-like symptoms, so that people think they are just catching a cold. More advanced poisoning can cause vomiting and headaches and even death. Carbon monoxide is deadly because it tricks the body into thinking it is oxygen. The body actually prefers carbon monoxide, choosing it over oxygen when both are present in the atmosphere.

Once in the body, carbon monoxide goes everywhere in the body, including the brain. Children, in particular, are quite susceptible to brain damage after relatively low levels of exposure.

Open fire flames

What are Common Causes of Carbon Monoxide Exposure?

Your family is most at risk of carbon monoxide exposure when fuel-burning appliances are improperly used or fall into disrepair. Gas and oil furnaces, fireplaces, and wood stoves all generate carbon monoxide. A relatively recent and growing cause of carbon monoxide poisoning cases are portable generators which have become the popular choice during the ‘load shedding’ issues facing South Africans.

With chimneys, fireplaces and stoves, most carbon monoxide problems occur because of improper exhausting of fumes. Such problems are almost entirely avoidable through correct installation and regular professional fireplace & chimney inspection.

This list is not exhaustive but these are some common causes of carbon monoxide exposure:

  • Braaing indoors without proper venting
  • Using a fireplace in a home that is too tight (air-tight), which can create a reverse air flow that draws combustion gases into your living space. Stoves with external air intake options solve this issue.
  • Poorly installed or maintain chimney/flue system which allows combustion gases into the room.
  • Loose or ill-fitting panels on cast iron stoves or open seams where fire cement has fallen out.
  • Burning fuel in a fireplace with an obstructed chimney (when a chimney is clogged by lays of creosote or blocked by debris it allows combustion gases to accumulate in your home)
  • Rust or water streaking in your chimney or vent
  • Disconnected or loose connections in your vent or chimney

Damaged Rear Exit

Over fired stove


How Do I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to follow these guidelines:

  • Invest in a carbon monoxide detector for each floor of your home. We can supply a Charnwood detector that meets EU standards.
  • Only use space heaters in well-ventilated areas.
  • Store your generator outdoors, never use it inside.
  • Open the damper of your fireplace before every use.
  • Bring in a professional chimney sweep for an annual inspection and cleaning of your chimney to ensure no clogging, blockage or damage puts your family at risk

CO Detector

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