What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a gas produced when fossil fuels are not completely burned, i.e. their combustion is incomplete. Fires, and other fossil fuel burning appliances usually allow the carbon monoxide to ventilate properly. This relieves the danger associated with a build up of carbon monoxide in a situation where it cannot escape.
If rooms are poorly ventilated and/or your chimney is blocked, Carbon Monoxide can build up. If your flue is faulty, Carbon Monoxide can seep through the walls and build up in a closed room well away from the fire itself. The gas is odourless (it cannot be smelled). It is tasteless and it has no colour. It also kills about 30 people per year directly and is responsible for lasting health damage in many many more.
Carbon Monoxide is very dangerous. It is absorbed by our blood 240 times more easily than the oxygen our blood is designed to carry to the rest of our body from our lungs. The Carbon Monoxide sticks to the blood, starving it of the oxygen we need. Because the Carbon Monoxide causes confusion in the mind the victim often does not even realise there is a problem. Then; they die. A National campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of Carbon Monoxide has been launched at Carbon Monoxide Be Alarmed. The Campaign is supported by Kirsty Allsopp.
How can you see signs of Carbon Monoxide?
Although you cannot see Carbon Monoxide, it is possible to see the signs that it might be present. If a fireplace is not ventilating properly you will usually see signs of soot stains around the perimeter. This also applies to other appliances such as solid fuel cookers, wood burners, gas fires etc. If Carbon Monoxide is present in a room there may be excessive condensation. Also look for a lazy orange flame in a gas burning appliance which would ordinarily have a bright blue flame.
How can this happen?
If your chimney is blocked and has not been swept, Carbon Monoxide can be produced. If your fire or appliances were installed by an untrained body they may not have ventilated the equipment properly. If your appliance is old and inefficient, Carbon Monoxide can occur. If there is no ventilation to fire or room, Carbon Monoxide can build to dangerous levels.
What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?
Very few people know the signs of Carbon Monoxide poisoning and many deaths result because the symptoms go unrecognised. The signs of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are very similar to flu showing nausea, dizziness, tiredness, headaches, loss of balance and forgetfulness. The best way to check is to get the sufferer into fresh air immediately. If they feel better they may have Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
Who is at risk?
Obviously everyone who burns fossil fuels in unsuitable or dangerous appliances, but older people are most vulnerable to Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Despite this fact, and despite substantial TV advertising, over half of people over 55 in this country do not have Carbon Monoxide alarms fitted in their homes. Also affected greatly are toddlers and people with anemia. Those with heart or lung diseases will be affected badly. Research has now found that there is a definite relationship between symptoms of heart disease, angina, heart attacks and Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
What is the answer?
An audible Carbon Monoxide detector! Yes its that simple. Corgi approved Carbon Monoxide detectors can be bought here (see image above) for less than £20.00 for a simple battery operated model or more sophisticated, mains models (see left) can be bought for £35 - £50. Click on the images to look at, or buy, the product.
What do I do in an emergency?
If you discover someone who is suffering from Carbon Monoxide poisoning, get them into the open air as quickly as possible.If it is possible, give them pure oxygen. Keep them still (Exertion will exacerbate the problem). Professional medical help should be called as soon as possible.
For Emergency medical help call 999 or for medical advice call NHS Direct on 0845 4647
For emergency help relating to the appliance/s which may be causing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning you can call:
Gas Emergency Service: 0800 111 999
Health and Safety Executive for gas safety advice: 0800 300 363
Solid Fuel & Oil :
HETAS: 0845 634 5626 - NAPIT: 0870 444 1392 - BESCA: 0800 652 5533 -
OFTEC: 0845 658 5080
All types of fuel:
0870 414 5533