Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

By: Guest Contributor, Penny Atkinson

Carbon monoxide is not only harmful to humans but it is one of the six major air pollutants. Whenever carbon-based fuels burn such as coal, wood and oil, carbon monoxide is produced. Carbon monoxide affects the atmosphere’s ability to cleanse itself of other polluting gases and can consequently cause damage to the Ozone layer.


We are taking steps to protect our environment against this gas by using renewable energy, but how can it affect us at home and what are we doing to protect ourselves?


Carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for 50 deaths and a further 200 hospitalisations each year in England and Wales, but a staggering 52% of homes don’t have a carbon monoxide detector to protect themselves from this risk. The substance can kill by slowing down the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen to body tissues and vital organs. Without oxygen your body tissue and cells die.


This gas is commonly referred to as the silent killer due to its lack of colour, taste or smell. This alone signals how important it is to install a detector as it’s difficult to identify otherwise. Poorly maintained household equipment such as gas cookers or old boilers can be culprits from carbon monoxide leaks.


In 2010, Katie Haines died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning after a faulty boiler leaked the poisonous gas into her home while she took a bath. This year two young missionaries, Yu Peng Xiong and Connor Benjamin Thredgold, died in their apartment after a faulty water indoor heater caused a carbon monoxide leakage.


25% of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths affect adults 65 years and older who usually have pre-existing health conditions that affect the respiratory and circulatory system. The presence of such a condition significantly reduces the victim’s tolerance to carbon monoxide and increases the risk of fatality. Even if you breathe in a small amount of carbon monoxide it can be harmful, especially to those in such vulnerable groups. However carbon monoxide poisoning can be deadly no matter of what age, proven by the accidental deaths of Katie Haines and the missionaries.


The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning  include nausea, poor concentration, apathy, flu-like symptoms and vertigo. It is essential you seek medical advice from an emergency medical team if you notice any of the above. This is especially poignant in pregnant women as a study has shown that foetal death and brain damage happen when carbon monoxide levels in the mother are high enough to make her lose consciousness.


To avoid health problems or worse caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, regularly check for the warning signs such as condensation on windows and pilot lights that frequently blow out. It is also recommended to install a carbon monoxide detector – which a shocking 62% of homes currently don’t have. For more information, see the guide.


Image credit: My Boiler Service.

Penny Atkinson is an online writer and editor covering a range of subjects from environmental issues, energy saving and healthy living. Connect with her on Twitter @PennysPennies

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