Please read this article to learn how to protect you and your family from the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. At The Simon Law Firm, through our clients and their cases, we’ve seen firsthand the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. One thing that stands out to us is that most people don't know much about how carbon monoxide is formed, how it hurts people or how to avoid it. As a result, hundreds of people lose loved ones each year. Here is some basic information that could keep your family safe.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide (CO for short) is a molecule that is produced anytime a fossil fuel (like propane, natural gas, or even wood) is burned. Depending on the fuel and how it is burned, the CO produced might be minimal, or it may be very dangerous. CO is an invisible, odorless gas that, because it cannot be easily detected, has sometimes been called the silent killer. CO is especially dangerous since, as mentioned, it is an odorless and invisible gas. A person can breathe it without even knowing it. This disrupts one of the most basic and necessary processes in the body. Normally, when an individual breathes in oxygen and other gases, a person's red blood cells are able to capture oxygen and then carry it throughout the body. As a result, the brain and other organs are fed the oxygen they need to function properly. CO short-circuits the whole process by bonding with red blood cells just like oxygen. When it does, the red blood cells can't link to the oxygen at all. As a result, the brain and other organs are deprived of oxygen, and instead, poisoned with CO. This can cause permanent injury, or even death.

Is Carbon Monoxide Really that Dangerous?

You might be surprised to learn that on average, close to 150 people die each year due to CO poisoning related to consumer products. The CO is generated by a variety of fuels, including propane, gasoline and charcoal. The fuels are the source of the carbon monoxide, but they are often hooked to some other device which burns the fuels. For example, a small propane cylinder can be hooked to a lantern or a heater. When the propane is lit, CO is produced. Other times, CO is produced by gasoline burned generators, natural gas burned in heaters, or charcoal burned in grills or ovens. Whatever the fuel, if CO is produced in sufficient amounts, it can be deadly.

What Can I Do to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Hazards?

Here is a short list of some basic things you can do:

  1. Be Aware: Recognize that if you are burning any type of fuel, it might produce carbon monoxide.
  2. Camping: Any type of camping equipment that burns propane or liquid fuel should never be used in a tent. Although some manufacturers of propane, liquid fuel, or products that use those fuels allow consumers to use products in ventilated areas, this is not always safe and should be avoided.
  3. In Your Home: Purchase carbon monoxide detectors and install them in your house. Carbon Monoxide detectors are the best way to be sure that your home is safe from carbon monoxide. If they go off, you know that you and your family are in danger, and you can take action to protect yourselves. This is especially important because, if you are asleep and begin to breathe carbon monoxide, you may not wake up. An alarm helps avoid this hazard.
  4. Using Generators, Engines, or other fuel burning machines: any generator, car, or gas powered heater can produce carbon monoxide. Read all warnings carefully, follow the manufacturer's guidelines, and if you have any doubts at all, don't use the product in an enclosed space. This can include garages (even if the door is open) tents, campers or RVs.
  5. Charcoal: People love to grill, but remember that charcoal can produce CO. Never use it indoors.
  6. Know the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Exposure: If you are exposed to carbon monoxide you may feel dizzy, have a headache, or feel nauseous. These are all signs that you could be experiencing the beginnings of carbon monoxide poisoning. Get fresh air immediately and then attempt to identify the hazard.
  7. Tell a Friend: People sometimes know that cars, in a garage, can hurt you, but even experienced campers don't usually know about the dangers from camping fuels and portable equipment. The same is true for charcoal grills use in closed patios, or generators on ice fishing trips in small enclosures.

Every year, people die because they don't know about CO. You might save a life just by passing this information on to someone you care about.