carbon monoxide gas?
Any device that burns fuels like coal, gasoline, kerosene, oil or wood can create the gas. Water heaters that burn natural gas create carbon monoxide. Fireplaces and stoves that burn wood create the gas. Natural gas stoves and gas dryers or charcoal grills also create carbon monoxide. Automobiles create it.
Experts say the leading cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is damaged or misused equipment that burns these fossil fuels. Many people die or are injured by the gas because they do not use these devices correctly. Any device used to heat a home should be inspected to make sure it is working correctly. And cooking equipment like a charcoal grill should never be used to heat an enclosed area.
Fuel-burning devices can create carbon monoxide gas because not all of the fuel is burned. Most devices used for home heating have a way to expel the gas from the home. For example, a fireplace has a chimney. Natural-gas stoves or gas water heaters are usually connected to a device that safely expels the gas from the home. Automobiles also have a system for releasing unburned fuel.
Anyone who uses a device that burns fossil fuel must inspect the equipment carefully to reduce chances of carbon monoxide escaping. Companies that produce the devices usually provide directions about using the device correctly. These directions should be read and understood before using any equipment that burns fuel inside a home.
A small, portable generator used to create electricity during a power outage can be dangerous. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that such a device can kill within minutes when not used correctly.
You can do a number of things to protect yourself from the effects of carbon monoxide. First, immediately leave the area if you recognize the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in yourself or others.
Seek emergency medical services after you leave the area where you suspect the gas might be. Usually, the treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning involves breathing in large amounts of oxygen. However, a doctor will know the best method to treat the effects of such poisoning.
Carbon monoxide does not quickly leave the body, even after treatment has begun. It can take several hours before the gas disappears. If you suspect carbon monoxide is a problem in your home, call your local fire department. Many firefighters have the necessary equipment to find or identify the gas.
In many countries, it is possible to buy and use a special device that will warn when harmful levels of carbon monoxide are in the area. These devices can be linked to a home’s electric system. Others are battery-powered. Experts say these devices should be placed near sleeping areas in the home and they should be tested at least twice a year.
The most important weapon against carbon monoxide poisoning is the safe use of materials to heat any enclosed area. Safety directions that come with heating equipment must be followed. Older equipment powered by fossil fuels should be inspected every year to make sure it continues to be safe. Knowledge about the dangers of carbon monoxide could be the most important information you ever learn.
This "Science in the News" was written by Nancy Steinbach and Christopher Cruise. Our producer was June Simms. I’m Faith Lapidus.