Carbon monoxide is often called the silent killer because it’s an invisible and odorless gas. Its symptoms, which resemble those of the flu without a temperature, aren’t distinctive enough for many people to understand what’s happening to them. Other symptoms such as balance, memory, and vision problems, as well as confusion, occur later when victims are less able to help themselves.
Carbon monoxide (CO) occurs as a product of combustion. Some types of fuels produce little while others such as charcoal produce dangerous levels of CO. Poorly adjusted fuel burning heaters, stoves, and furnaces will also put out significant CO.
The hemoglobin in human blood normally carries oxygen to the body’s cells. However, hemoglobin has a far greater preference to carry carbon monoxide. This means the blood becomes saturated with CO instead of oxygen, which starves the body of oxygen.
Common Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Furnaces. Furnaces that are badly maintained, damaged, or improperly installed, will produce dangerous levels of CO. A clogged, dirty, or sooty burner is a common cause. Other causes include a cracked heat exchanger and improperly functioning flue.
- Water heater. Issues similar to furnaces will cause excessive CO emissions.
- Fireplaces. A fully or partially blocked chimney or negative pressure can cause the fireplace’s combustion products (including CO) to enter a house. Negative pressure occurs when a sealed and well insulated house runs bathroom or kitchen exhaust fans. This draws air in backwards through the fireplace chimney.
- Power generators. Power generators that run indoors expose the occupants to CO gas. Generators should be kept outdoors.
- Gas stoves. Poorly adjusted or maintained gas stoves using a poor air/fuel mixture can produce lethal levels of CO.
- Car or other vehicle running indoors. A car running in a garage, even with the garage doors open, endangers the occupants of the house. Forklifts that run on propane in poorly ventilated work environments expose workers to dangerous CO levels.
- Indoor barbecues, grills, and hibachis. These should never be used indoors because they burn charcoal, which produces high quantities of CO gas.
Situations That May Constitute Wrongful Death by CO Poisoning
- Defective products.
- Poor maintenance and inadequate safety measures by a landlord or other property owner.
- Poor installation or maintenance checkup of a stove, furnace, water heater, or chimney by a service professional or contractor.
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