What You Should Know About Carbon Monoxide (CO)
According to the centers for disease control, CO kills an estimated
2,100 people per year. The American Association of Poison Control
Centers reports carbon monoxide incidents account for more than 40,000
emergency room visits and 20,000 health-related injuries each year. A
recent study at a Midwest hospital found that 5-10 percent of the
patients who presented themselves with flu-like symptoms actually had CO
As temperatures across the nation drop, fire service professionals
know that residential carbon monoxide (CO) incidents will be on the
rise. We hope that with this section of our web page we can help you
understand and prevent the number one cause of poisoning deaths in
Symptoms from early exposure mimic the flu:
Headaches, nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, and confusion
CO FUEL SOURCES
CO is produced when fossil fuels burn incompletely because of
insufficient oxygen. These fuels include natural gas, propane, kerosene,
gasoline, coal, wood and charcoal.
CO COMBUSTION SOURCES
Furnace, water heater, oven, range, clothes dryer, fireplace, space
heater, charcoal grill, wood-burning stove or an idling vehicle in an
Problems can result from improper installation, poor maintenance or
inadequate ventilation. Negative pressure can occur inside a home due to
outside weather conditions (strong wind), or from exhaust fans in the
kitchen and bathroom, or exhaust from a clothes dryer. For a house to
breathe properly, the air exhausted from the inside must be replaced by
an equal amount of outside air. In tightly sealed homes, this negative
pressure can force flue gases to reverse flow - or backdraft into the
living space. These incidents are the most difficult to find or replace.
parts per million
9 PPM EPA residential standard - not to exceed an 8 hour average
400 PPM life threatening after 3 hours
800 PPM death within 2 hours
1600 PPM death within 1 hour
12,800 PPM death within 1-3 minutes
1,600 PPM smoldering fire, faulty furnace, kitchen range, or water
3,200 PPM charcoal grill
70,000 PPM tailpipe exhaust on a cold weather start
CO ALARM STANDARDS
70 PPM present alarm must sound within 1-4 hours
150 PPM present alarm must sound within 10-50 minutes
400 PPM present alarm must sound within 4-15 minutes
CO alarms should be installed outside of sleeping areas and
approximately 10 feet from fuel-burning appliances. For added
protection, alarms should be on every level of the home. If the alarm
sounds, UL advises to try the reset button, call 9-1-1 and seek fresh
Important Notice: The Kimberton Fire Co
requests that in the event of a CO detector activation that you
immediately evacuate from the building, call 9-1-1 and do NOT open any
windows, since this makes detection of CO very difficult. We will
ventilate the building after we have inspected it with our meters (which
are much more accurate than home units).
The Kimberton Fire Co has an educational video available courtesy of
Kidde that reviews the above information in a simple and informative
presentation. To borrow this video contact the Fire Chief at
610-935-1388 or his voice mail system at 610-933-4566 (voice mailbox #3)
and leave a message.
Most Consumers Don't Respond to Carbon Monoxide Alarms
WRITTEN BY : Sherry Jacobson
DALLAS, Texas--When the carbon monoxide monitor
started shrieking in Jesus Chairez's apartment on a recent cold and
drafty night, he mistakenly did the wrong thing.
"My first thought was that something was wrong with the alarm," he
recalls of jumping out of bed to try to disable the noisy contraption on
that night in November. "If I'd been sick or something, I'm sure I would
have called the fire department to check it out."
More than just about anyone in Dallas, Chairez should have known to dial
911. He is the local information officer for the U.S. Consumer Product
Safety Commission. It has long been his job to persuade people to
install home detectors that warn against the deadly presence of the
odorless, colorless and tasteless gas.
"My friends call me 'Mr. Safety,'" he says of his propensity to scold
others for the safety hazards he finds in their homes and for his habit
of giving smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as gifts.
But it is not surprising that he didn't know exactly what to do when his
detector went off. Most people fail to notify the fire department when a
carbon monoxide alarm sounds at home, according to a recent study by the
Gas Research Institute, the research arm of the natural gas industry. It
found that only 14 percent of the alarm owners interviewed in four
cities called the fire department when their detectors sounded, while 10
percent called a utility company and 5 percent called a friend or family
Most surprising was that almost 62 percent of those surveyed called no
one. When asked to explain what they did about the alarm, 30 percent
said they discovered the source of the carbon monoxide leak and fixed
it. About 23 percent said they suspected it was a false alarm. The
others simply reset the detector and found it didn't go off again or
followed the manufacturer's directions and determined there was no
At high levels, carbon monoxide can kill a person in minutes, according
to the Environmental Protection Agency. At moderate levels, it can cause
severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea or fainting. Mild
levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea and headaches and
long-term health effects.
Dallas fire officials say it worries them to hear that people are not
calling for help when their carbon monoxide alarms are triggered. All 95
of the department's trucks and fire apparatus are outfitted with
monitors that can find the source of such gas leaks.
"Carbon monoxide is a silent killer," says Capt. Benny Howard, who
oversees the department's hazardous materials unit. "The fire department
is pushing smoke detectors because they save lives. Carbon monoxide
detectors do too."
When someone calls 911 about a carbon monoxide alert and no one is sick,
the operator will tell them to leave the house anyway, he says. "We send
firefighters inside wearing breathing apparatus and carrying the
monitors. We don't let people back in until we've pinpointed the source
of the leak."
Of the 208 emergency calls triggered by carbon monoxide alarms in Dallas
last year, more than half had detectable levels of the gas, he says. In
28 cases, people were so ill that they required medical treatment.
In Chairez's defense, he says he failed to call authorities that night
because he did not feel sick. But he did do a couple things right,
including airing out his apartment and turning off an ancient gas heater
in the fireplace before crawling back into bed. He subsequently
determined that the heater was leaking carbon monoxide into the living
room, adjacent to where he was sleeping. He no longer uses the heater.
Important notice: The Kimberton Fire Co.
requests that in the event of a CO detector activation, that you
immediately evacuate everyone from the building, call 911, do not open
windows, since this makes detection of CO very difficult, we will
ventilate the building after we have inspected it with our CO Detectors
(much more accurate than home units), if necessary.
The push for carbon monoxide monitoring is a national effort to prevent
the nearly 300 deaths each year and 10,000 emergency room visits that
result from accidentally breathing the gas in residential settings.
So far, only a few major cities, including Chicago, Toronto and Albany,
N.Y., require the monitors to be installed in certain residential
settings. Nationally, 15 to 20 percent of U.S. households have the
"We think every home ought to have a carbon monoxide detector," says Ken
Giles, a national spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety
Commission. "Carbon monoxide is a senseless killer."
Winter is the most likely time for carbon monoxide poisoning in
residential settings because homes are closed up, allowing dangerous
levels of the gas to build up when a malfunction occurs in a furnace or
appliance that uses fuel, experts say. Automobile exhaust also can seep
into homes, poisoning unsuspecting occupants.
Without an alarm, say proponents, it is easy to mistake the symptoms of
carbon monoxide poisoning for the flu. Most people are not aware of the
many ways they can be exposed to the gas, which is caused by the burning
of gasoline, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal.
In the absence of carbon monoxide detectors, emergency room workers
often must alert the fire department when they find high levels of
carbon monoxide in the blood of their patients, officials say.
Two years ago, for example, 11 occupants of an Dallas area apartment
were rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, all of them extremely ill.
After blood tests indicated that carbon monoxide was to blame, fire
investigators were sent back and found a broken furnace flue in the wall
of the apartment.
Home is not the only place that such poisonings can occur. According to
the National Injury Information Clearinghouse, people have sought
treatment for carbon monoxide exposure in churches, day-care centers and
beauty salons across the country in the last five years. People have
passed out watching television, repairing their cars in the garage and
visiting grandma, all because of carbon monoxide.
"Using a charcoal grill inside the house causes about 25 deaths every
year," says Giles, the consumer agency's spokesman.
Charcoal grills in the backyard also have sickened hundreds of people
when fumes are allowed to pass through open windows into the house.
Faulty pilot lights also have been the source of many illnesses.
Although emergency experts applaud the use of carbon monoxide detectors,
the alarms have their share of problems. Last year, the agency recalled
about 1 million of the safety devices because they went off too late or
not at all when tested with high levels of gas.
The recall was prompted by a study by the Gas Research Institute, which
determined that 12 out of 80 carbon monoxide detectors, about 15
percent, were defective at the time of purchase. "There's still a number
of them that do not work very well," says Steve Wiersma, program manager
of health and safety issues for the research center, which recently was
renamed the Gas Technology Institution.
"Some (detectors) go off earlier than they should," he says, noting that
most alarms sound when the level of carbon monoxide is not considered
dangerous. "It's essentially a false alarm and people start ignoring
them. They lose consumer confidence."
There is a continuing debate over how the monitors should function,
including the levels of carbon monoxide that should be measured before
the alarm sounds. The gas industry would like the detectors to sound at
a level that would sicken a healthy person, such as breathing 70 parts
of carbon monoxide per million parts of oxygen for longer than 90
"With carbon monoxide, it's an issue of exposure time as well as the
level of gas that you're exposed to," Wiersma says. "Long-term exposure
to 10 parts of carbon monoxide per million does not affect a normal
However, fire officials and consumer protection experts want the levels
to be much lower, based on the amount of carbon monoxide that would be
dangerous for an elderly or sick person to breathe.
The most popular carbon monoxide alarms go off at exposure levels as low
as 10 parts per million, it is noted. However, the Dallas Fire
Department allows residents to return to a home where carbon monoxide is
less than 35 parts per million. At higher levels, the source of the gas
leak must be located and repaired, Howard says.
"Unfortunately, the alarm standards are built around healthy human
beings, not the elderly and children, who have a lower tolerance," he
says. "We'd rather error on the side of caution. You can't be too
careful when you're dealing with something as silent and deadly as
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