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CO - Carbon Monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fossil fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, propane, oil and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment are possible sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles running in an attached garage could also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. However, consumers can protect themselves against CO poisoning by maintaining, using, and venting heating and cooking equipment and by being cautious when using vehicles in attached garages. What is the effect of exposure to CO?
CO replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, eventually causing suffocation. Mild CO poisoning feels like the flu, but more serious poisoning leads to difficulty breathing and even death. Just how sick people get from CO exposure varies greatly from person to person, depending on age, overall health, the concentration of the exposure (measured in parts per million), and the length of exposure. Higher concentrations are dangerous even for a short time. When carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood, a condition known as carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) saturation results. Carboxyhemoglobin levels do not consider the length of exposure. As more and more carbon monoxide accumulates in the blood, the percentage of COHb gets higher and higher - and people get sicker and sicker. What is your risk of CO poisoning?
Deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning - about 700 in 1993, according to the National Safety Council - are fairly rare. Three of every five of these deaths typically involve vehicles, one of every five typically involves heating or cooking equipment, and the other one of every five typically involves other or unspecified causes. In fact, deaths from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning have dropped sharply in recent years, thanks to lower CO emissions from automobiles and safer heating and cooking appliances. Deaths from "smoke inhalation" (largely carbon monoxide) in fires and suicides involving CO are far more common causes of gas-related suffocation deaths in homes. Published estimates on the role of CO in home fire deaths vary widely. According to the NFPA, there were 242 CO-related non-fire deaths attributed to heating and cooking equipment in 1991.

The leading specific types of equipment were:
· Gas-fueled space heaters (69 deaths)
· Gas-fueled furnaces (52 deaths)
· Charcoal grills (36 deaths)
· Gas-fueled ranges (23 deaths)
· Portable kerosene heaters (23 deaths)
· Wood stoves (13 deaths)
As with fire deaths, the risk of unintentional CO death is highest for the very young (ages 4 or younger) or the very old (ages 75 or above). How can you protect yourself from CO poisoning?
The best defenses against CO poisoning are safe use of vehicles (particularly in attached garages) and proper installation, use and maintenance of household cooking and heating equipment. You may also want to install CO detectors inside your home to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide. However, a CO detector is no substitute for safe use and maintenance of heating and cooking equipment. .

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