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Published on April 25, 2013

Spring is in the Air, and So is Carbon Monoxide

April 25, 2013

Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning is a year-round concern that can even occur outdoors. As you work and play outside this spring, don’t let CO catch you unaware.

Finally! It’s time to fire up the grill, use a pressure washer to spruce up around the house, haul stuff in the old pickup truck, take a spin in the boat or head out to a campsite. What do all of these popular activities have in common? They all present the possibility of CO poisoning.

People tend to be more aware of the danger of CO poisoning in the winter, when they retreat indoors to enjoy the warmth of a wood-burning furnace or fireplace. But deadly CO gas can also come from charcoal grills, cars and recreational vehicles with gasoline engines, as well as gas-powered tools, such as compressors, lawn care and construction equipment, pressure washers and generators.

What is Carbon Monoxide?
What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

CO is a gas produced when fuels such as wood, oil, kerosene, charcoal, propane and gasoline are burned – or more precisely, when they are incompletely burned. CO gas cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. CO is non-irritating and non-toxic until inhaled. When CO is inhaled, red blood cells pick up CO molecules instead of oxygen, and as the CO-tainted blood circulates, the body’s cells and tissues are damaged by the lack of oxygen, resulting in sudden illness or even death.

Prevent CO Poisoning

To keep yourself and loved ones safe from CO poisoning, KishHealth System recommends the following:

  • Do not operate gas-powered tools inside a garage, basement, shed or other sheltered area.
  • No matter how chilly or rainy, equipment such as camp stoves, lanterns and charcoal grills should never be used inside a tent, camper or other enclosed shelter.
  • The U.S. Coast Guard warns that any motorboat, lethal concentrations of CO can build up to dangerous concentrations within seconds, whether the craft is underway, moored or at anchor.
  • Spring is a great time to have a mechanic check the exhaust system of any vehicle, especially one not frequently used in the winter.
  • Before every trip, inspect motor home and RV engines and generator exhaust systems for leaks.

Because you can’t smell, see or taste CO gas, the onset of poisoning symptoms is the first indiciation that something is wrong. At low levels of exposure, CO poisoning initially causes headache, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. CO poisoning can also cause blood pressure to rise and skin may become pink or red. At higher levels of inhalation, CO poisoning may cause confusion, disorientation, shortness of breath, and loss of consciousness.

If you suspect someone has been exposed to CO, move the person to fresh air and immediate seek medical help. Kishwaukee Community and Valley West Community Hospitals both have 24/7 Emergency Rooms staffed by trained professionals. Or call the American Association of Poison Control Centers national help line at 800.222.1222.


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