Over fifty people die from CO poisoning every year, and many more suffer ill health, the number of people being exposed each year could run into the hundreds of thousands or even millions.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning can happen within a matter of minutes and is responsible for more deaths than any other single poison. CO is an odourless, colourless poison can cause permanent neurological damage and other long-term health effects, and in extreme cases, can kill in minutes. Other products of Toxic Combustion (TC), which are less well known, can be equally damaging to health.
Advice to minimise the risk
- Do have your gas appliances checked annually by a Gas Safe registered engineer or an OFTEC registered engineer if an oil appliance. Make sure that you check their ID card, and ensure that they are qualified to work on your appliance: you can find a list on the back of their card identifying whether they are suitably qualified to work on your appliances;
- Do fit a CO detector with an audible alarm, but remember a CO Alarm will only warn you of Carbon Monoxide not the presence of other toxic fumes (this is especially important in the case of Oil fired appliances as oil appears to produce less CO but higher levels of other toxins);
- Do have your chimney checked and swept annually;
- Be aware of external flues close to windows, whether yours or your neighbours – make sure fumes are not blowing in from outside.
- Do not run your car even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home. This advice applies to any engine in an enclosed space, for example, a generator;
- Do not use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time;
- Do not use a charcoal grill indoors;
- Do not cover air-bricks. These are present for ventilation, if the appliances in your home don’t have enough air they will produce Carbon Monoxide;
- Do not ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.
Carbon monoxide blocks the body’s ability to carry oxygen and poisoning from the gas can happen in minutes or over a period of time depending on the amount of carbon monoxide in the air.
You can’t see, taste or smell it but CO can kill in hours with no warning
CO poisoning does have symptoms, but they mimic many common ailments and are easily be confused with flu or simple tiredness. The symptoms of CO poisoning include:
There are visible signs that your appliance is not functioning correctly, and could be producing toxic levels of CO/TC. There is no substitute for regular servicing of your gas/oil/coal burning appliances, but you should be on the lookout for:
- Yellow or brown staining around, or on appliances ;
- Pilot lights that frequently blow out;
- Increased condensation inside windows;
- Gas appliances – yellow rather than blue flame (apart from flueless fires).
- If you have not done so before, you may also wish to do a basic check for CO leakage in your home.
One way to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is to purchase a carbon monoxide alarm, but remember this will only detect CO!
These can be found at any hardware store or supermarket and should be placed in the hallway or sleeping area. Please remember that your appliances will still need regular servicing from a Gas Safe registered engineer if your appliance is gas or an OFTEC registered engineer if an oil fired appliance. If your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, turn all appliances off, leave your home immediately and go straight to A&E saying you may have been poisoned by carbon monoxide. When you return home, ventilate your home well DO NOT TURN YOUR APPLIANCE BACK ON!
Arrange for your appliance to be inspected by a specialist engineer and environmental air sampling expert in order to establish what toxins are emanating from your appliance, in what quantities and over what period of time you may have been exposed to these various toxins. This information will be very important to your medical team in order to give you the correct treatment. Only after you have carried out these tests should you then replace or have your appliance repaired by a suitably qualified engineer.
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