Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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Last updated: 
March 24, 2014

Carbon monoxide an Odorless, Tasteless Killer
By Betty Stephens


Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after enough inhalation of carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and initially non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect. Carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion of organic matter due to insufficient oxygen supply to enable complete oxidation to carbon dioxide (CO2). It is often produced in domestic or industrial settings by older motor vehicles and other gasoline-powered tools, heaters, and cooking equipment. Exposures at 100 ppm or greater can be dangerous to human health.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sources of carbon monoxide could include unvented gas space heaters, leaking furnaces or automobile exhaust in garages.

Symptoms of mild acute poisoning include lightheadedness, confusion, headaches, vertigo, and flu-like effects; larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and even death. Following acute poisoning, long-term sequelae often occur. Carbon monoxide can also have severe effects on the fetus of a pregnant woman. Chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can lead to depression, confusion, and memory loss. Carbon monoxide mainly causes adverse effects in humans by combining with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (HbCO) in the blood. This prevents hemoglobin from releasing oxygen in tissues, effectively reducing the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood, leading to hypoxia.

More than 400 Americans die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it is responsible for more than 20,000 people visiting the emergency room annually.

New York Restaurant Poisoning

Carbon monoxide, a silent killer, is being blamed in the weekend death of a restaurant manager at a Long Island Mall. In this incident, the manager, Steven Nelson, 55, was found in the restaurant basement and taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Twenty-seven people, including seven first responders, were taken to the hospital. In the Long Island case, investigators found a leak in the flue pipe of the water heater at Legal Sea Foods, a spokesman for the town of Huntington said. The pipe is supposed to carry gas from the water heater to the outside. Instead, the leak in the pipe caused the gas to build up in the basement of the restaurant.

The Legal Seafood restaurant didn't have a carbon monoxide detector -- because New York law doesn't require them in restaurants; only in places where people sleep, said Huntington town officials.

CO detector


There are several precautions to take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Chief among them is installing a carbon monoxide alarm in the hallway near every area of your home that is used for sleeping.

A carbon monoxide detector or CO detector is a device that detects the presence of the carbon monoxide (CO) gas in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. In the late 1990s Underwriters Laboratories (UL) changed their definition of a single station CO detector with a sound device in it to a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm. This applies to all CO safety alarms that meet UL 2034; however for passive indicators and system devices that meet UL 2075, UL refers to these as carbon monoxide detectors.
CO detectors are designed to measure CO levels over time and sound an alarm before dangerous levels of CO accumulate in an environment, giving people adequate warning to safely ventilate the area or evacuate. Some system-connected detectors also alert a monitoring service that can dispatch emergency services if necessary.
While CO detectors do not serve as smoke detectors and vice versa, dual smoke/CO detectors are also sold. Smoke detectors detect the smoke generated by flaming or smoldering fires, whereas CO detectors detect and warn people about dangerous CO buildup caused. In the home, some common sources of CO include open flames, space heaters, water heaters, blocked chimneys or running a car inside a garage.

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