Carbon Monoxide (CO) is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. This odorless, colorless, poisonous gas is created when any fuel such as gasoline, kerosene, propane or wood is burned. The by-product of this combustion process is carbon monoxide, which can cause serious, if not deadly, health issues.
When a person breathes Carbon Monoxide, it enters the bloodstream through the lungs and attaches to red blood cells preventing the flow of oxygen to the heart, brain, and other vital organs. As CO accumulates in the bloodstream, the body becomes starved for oxygen. High concentrations of CO can be lethal in minutes. Low concentrations over a long period of time can cause heart and brain damage.
Knowing and being able to recognize symptoms of CO poisoning could save you, co-workers or loved ones from serious illness or death. Symptoms typically start with a mild headache, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, sleepiness and confusion. Advanced exposure moves to a throbbing frontal headache, drowsiness, confusion and an increased heart rate. Extreme exposure can lead to convulsions, unconsciousness, and heart and lung failure.
A person that has succumbed to CO poisoning must be removed from the area immediately to an area where fresh air is available. The person should then be taken to the nearest medical facility for further evaluation.
It is important to always be aware of your surroundings and to always use caution when using fuel burning equipment. Gas powered equipment like generators, compressors and space heaters should not be used in closed buildings. Gas welding, cutting or other burning operations should be closely monitored and power ventilated if possible. Exhaust from vehicles and equipment left running can drift into confined spaces. If you can smell the exhaust, CO is present in the air.
For additional information on Carbon Monoxide or any safety related issue, please contact the IMT Loss Control Department or your local IMT Agent.
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