Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
How do you know if you have carbon monoxide poisoning? Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic and potentially deadly gas that results from incomplete combustion, regardless of the fuel used: wood, butane, coal, gasoline, fuel oil, natural gas, oil, propane. It diffuses very quickly in the environment. Each year, this toxic gas is responsible for around a hundred deaths worldwide.
Simple actions, however, help to reduce the risks.
Under what circumstances does poisoning occur?
Carbon monoxide poisoning results from several causes:
– Poor evacuation of combustion products (obstructed or poorly sized flue)
– Absence or insufficient ventilation in the room where the appliance is installed (caulked rooms, blocked air outlets)
– Lack of maintenance of heating and hot water production devices.
– Obsolete devices
– Improper use of certain appliances, designed exclusively for outdoor or auxiliary use (auxiliary heating appliances used continuously, for example, generators, etc.)
– Incompatibility of the different installations present in the same dwelling (example: open hearth and boiler).
A combination of these causes is often observed in accidents.
In addition, aggravating factors such as particular weather conditions (storm, dense fog, extreme cold, etc.) lead to increased risks, especially since they can be accompanied by the massive use of makeshift heaters. (generator, oil stove, brazier, etc.).
In addition, collective poisonings are observed every year in public places: schools, supermarkets, restaurants, churches, ice rinks, etc.
All types of combustion appliances, regardless of the fuel used, constitute a potential source of carbon monoxide, in variable quantities depending on the nature of this fuel and the quality of combustion:
– wood, coal, gas or fuel oil boilers
– water heaters and bath heaters
– fireplace inserts, stoves
– auxiliary mobile heaters
– wood, coal or gas stoves
– car engines in garages
– gasoline or fuel oil generating sets and any fixed or mobile heat engine
– “temporary” appliances such as a brazier heater, or portable stove
What are the symptoms ?
Symptoms – headaches, fatigue, nausea – appear more or less quickly and can affect several people. Severe poisoning can lead to coma and death, sometimes within minutes. It is therefore important to act very quickly:
In the event of suspected poisoning, ventilate the premises immediately, switch off combustion appliances if possible, evacuate the premises and call the emergency services by dialing 15, 18 or 112 (and 114 for the hearing impaired).
The management of poisoned people must intervene quickly, from the first symptoms, and may require specialized hospitalization.
How can I avoid poisoning in my home?
For people who live in countries that have 4 seasons:
Before each winter:
– Have your installations checked by a qualified professional:
water heaters and bath heaters
fireplaces, inserts, stoves,
– Have your ducts and chimneys mechanically swept at least once a year.
Throughout the winter:
– Ventilate your home
– Never block the air inlets.
– Follow the instructions for use of combustion appliances indicated in the manufacturer’s instructions.
In very cold weather:
– Never use appliances not intended for this purpose to heat you: stove, brazier, etc.
– Do not use auxiliary heaters continuously. These devices should only operate intermittently.
– If you have just purchased or installed a new heating appliance, ensure that you have the correct installation and operation of the appliance from a qualified professional before putting it into service.
In the event of power outages:
– It is essential to install generating sets outside buildings and never in closed places – They must never be used indoors.
During mild spells, if you have an appliance in which it is possible to let the fire smolder (e.g. charcoal stove):
– Do not leave your stove smoldering if a mild spell is announced.
How can I be alerted if I have carbon monoxide in my home?
There are fixed or portable carbon monoxide detectors on the market. The level of security provided by autonomous carbon monoxide warning detectors indicates that their level of security is too often insufficient. If you choose today to equip your home with a detector, make sure beforehand that the detector you have chosen is declared by the manufacturer to comply with European standard NF EN 50291 (this statement must appear on the packaging of the product) or other conformity.
During the annual maintenance of your boiler, the qualified professional who intervenes is required to measure the carbon monoxide to ensure that your installation does not emit carbon monoxide.
In addition, if your home is also equipped with autonomous smoke alarm detectors (DAAF), be careful not to confuse their alarms. The behaviors to adopt in response to the triggering of the alarm of a DAAF (not to leave your home, seal the doors, stand next to the window and wait for help) are the opposite of those to adopt if the alarm of a CO detector is triggered (open the windows and leave the accommodation).
What should I do if I think I have an unsafe heating system that could emit carbon monoxide?
Qualified professional plumbers, heating engineers and chimney sweeps are able to carry out the diagnosis of your installation.
In addition, if it is an indoor gas installation that is more than 15 years old, there are also certified diagnosticians in your region who carry out a state of the installations on the occasion of the sale of a home. These professionals can diagnose your installation.
What to do if you suspect poisoning or if the CO detector goes off?
If you are in a room with a device that runs on combustible energy (wood, coal, gas (natural, butane, propane), gasoline, fuel oil, ethanol) and you have headaches, nausea, vomiting, it could be carbon monoxide poisoning.
In addition, if your accommodation is equipped with a CO detector, the alarm goes off to warn you of the presence in the atmosphere of my accommodation of CO at a fairly high level.
In these two situations:
1/ Ventilate the premises immediately by opening doors and windows.
2/ Switch off combustion appliances if possible.
3/ Evacuate the premises and buildings.
4/ Call the emergency services:
– 112: Single European emergency number
– 911: American emergency number
5/ Do not return to the premises before having received the advice of a professional.
Where does carbon monoxide come from in collective premises (public places)?
In places of entertainment or worship, too long use of radiant panels can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. It is forbidden to preheat rooms equipped with radiant panels before events.
Generators, often used at gatherings (parties, festivals, meetings, concerts, masses) can also emit carbon monoxide. They must always be placed outside the premises.
Who to inquire?
For more information, you can contact:
– The poison control center in your area
– A qualified professional: plumber-heating engineer, chimney sweep
– The Regional Health Agency of your region
– The Communal Hygiene and Health Service of your town hall
It is necessary to consult a doctor to treat carbon monoxide poisoning.
Administration of high concentration oxygen is the usual treatment. If the person’s condition is more serious, the doctor may prescribe treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. This treatment consists of placing the person in a closed box where they receive pressurized oxygen.
What are the sequelae and consequences?
Serious and untreated, carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly. Carbon monoxide poisoning can sometimes cause long-term neurological and cardiac sequelae that leave disabling symptoms.
It also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease within ten years. There are also distant neurological symptoms, despite well-administered and monitored treatment.
These may appear in patients who appeared to have fully recovered from acute poisoning. They appear after a latency period of two days to five weeks. This so-called “postinterval” syndrome is manifested in particular by symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, by chronic headaches, visual disturbances, mood changes or personality disorders.