Carbon Monoxide

By Karen Larsen

A closeup of exhaust coming out of a car's tailpipe

Edmonton has been having a problem with carbon monoxide over the past few months. Here is some information about carbon monoxide poisoning and how to protect your family.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odourless, colourless, toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of common fuels such as gasoline, coal, natural gas, propane, or any other combustible material such as wood, cloth or paper. Fuels burn incompletely when an adequate of oxygen is not available.

Today’s more energy-efficient, air tight homes can limit air inflow into the home. This may cause fuel burning appliances compete for available oxygen and “back-draft. (Pulling polluted or CO contaminated air back into the house.) Any indoor workplace where engines are running presents a potential hazard. Workers must realize the fuel-powered machines can expose them to this deadly gas.

When CO is inhaled, it is absorbed through the lungs and into the bloodstream where it prevents the body from absorbing oxygen. Without oxygen, vital organs, especially the heart and brain, begin to deteriorate. To compensate, your heart rate increases, breathing may become difficult and in most serious circumstances cardiac trauma, brain damage, coma and death will result. The severity of symptoms depend on its concentration in the air, the length of exposure and the person’s health condition. CO poisoning is progressive and can build up to dangerous level in your body

Medical experts believe that the severity of the symptoms will increase for unborn babies, infants, children, seniors and people with heart of lung problems.

Ensure that intakes, vents and pipes on fuel burning appliances and chimneys are kept clear of debris. Have a qualified technician inspect and clean the vents, etc., at least once a year. This should be done before the cold season. Visually inspect fuel burning equipment and their venting systems on a regular basis for signs of cracks, wear, soot, rust or corrosion. Contact a qualified technician to repair the faulty systems. Equipment that uses natural gas, such as you house furnace, should show a clear blue flame. If the flame is yellow or orange call a technician to check for possible problems.

The installation of a CO detector is the second line of defense. There are three (3) basic types of detectors: gel cell, elector-chemical and semi-conductor. All three (3) types will assist in detecting carbon monoxide. CO alarms can be powered in three (3) ways: battery, plug-in and hardwired. Talk to your provider when trying to make the best decision for your needs. Choose an alarm with a test button. Consider a battery back-up source for alarms powered by household electricity and ensure your CO alarm is equipped with an audible warning alarm. There should be at least one (1) CO detector on each floor, including the basement. If you are going to install it on the ceiling, make sure it is not near the smoke detector so you don’t get mixed up about which alarm is sounding. Do not install an alarm near a window, or air register, where drafts can reduce the alarm’s operation and sensitivity.