Usually the symptoms are mild, and there is a full recovery if exposure to the gas is identified and stopped. However, symptoms may occur much later after inhaling CO gas, including:
- Memory problems
- Coordination difficulties
Severe CO gas poisoning may cause long-term health problems that may include:
- Heart damage (coronary heart disease)
- Brain damage—acute carbon monoxide poisoning may result in irreversible neurological effects like a progressive worsening of memory and concentration. Rare cases of CO poisoning have been linked with the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
- Urinary incontinence
- Carbon monoxide exposure can be dangerous during pregnancy for both the mother and the developing fetus. Pregnant women and babies are more susceptible.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
If household appliances are well-serviced and used safely, they should produce only negligible quantities of gas. Failing to service old appliances may lead to a higher risk of CO exposure.
Appliances such as gas fireplaces, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, and gas cookers may be possible sources of carbon monoxide. Other sources may include the following:
- Running car engines in enclosed spaces—leaving a car in a closed garage with its engine running can produce deadly amounts of CO within 10 minutes.
- Generators and propulsion engines on houseboats
- Other vehicle exhausts
- Fuel burning furnaces
- CPAP machines
- Coal burning power plants
- Small gasoline engines
- Portable generators
- Defective Grills
- Fire places
- Charcoal grills
- Marine engines
- Propane-powered heaters
- Gas water heaters
- Kerosene heaters
- Blocked flues and chimneys
- Fumes from paint removers and cleaning fluids
CO Exposure Prevention
Awareness of the risk is first and foremost. To keep a safe work environment, it is important to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Employers are responsible for educating workers about the sources and work conditions that may result in CO poisoning.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published basic precautions to protect workers. Employers can reduce the risks associated with CO exposure with the following:
- Ensure Workplace Ventilation
- Equip all employees with masks and respirators when handling toxic materials
- Do not leave gasoline-powered motors running
- Do not use a generator near company windows or air intakes
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms at workplaces
Keyless Car Hazards
One very common modern convenience in new automobiles may lead to serious injuries and deaths. Keyless ignitions have allegedly led to the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths of more than two dozen people nationwide since 2006. Reports say many other American consumers have been injured, and some left with brain damage.
Keyless ignitions now come standard in over half of new vehicles sold in the United States each year. Rather than carrying a physical key, drivers have a fob that transmits a radio signal, and cars start with the touch of a button. But when accustomed to the habit of turning and removing a key to shut off the motor, many drivers exit their vehicles mistakenly thinking that the car has been turned off.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed safety regulations that may be instituted for very little cost. But the auto industry has pushed back, and while a rule is still under consideration, injuries and deaths related to carbon monoxide poisoning are still reported. Regulators are currently relying on carmakers to install warning features voluntarily, though most have failed to do so.
Some automakers have software that alerts drivers if an engine is left running, like Ford’s keyless vehicles that automatically shut off after 30 minutes of idling if the key is not in the vehicle.
Many older vehicles have not been fixed to reduce CO poisoning hazards, despite the small expense of making adjustments. The number of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths grows, the hazard is widespread and litigation against auto companies is mounting.
The keyless ignition was introduced the American market in 2002 and the exact number of carbon monoxide deaths related to keyless-ignition vehicles is unknown. In 2016, the NHTSA safety agency investigated at least four fatal incidents. From independent reports, lawsuits, and police records, The New York Times identified 28 deaths and 45 injuries since 2006.
Several reports each year describe a dangerous situation where a car is left running in the garage, and a home fills with carbon monoxide, linking keyless vehicles to CO poisoning accidents.
Such incidents concerned the Society of Automotive Engineers enough to develop recommended practices to address keyless ignition CO hazards. The group’s recommendations to carmakers included installing audible or visual alerts or engine automatic shut-off.
The traffic safety administration has also proposed a key rule that would require car manufacturers to provide internal and external alerts that could reduce incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning. Such safety features would cost the auto industry less than half a million dollars a year in software coding for millions of keyless vehicles, a very small price to pay for lives lost to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.
The safety agency has not adopted the keyless ignition however, and at least 21 people have died of related accidents. No federal agency actually keeps records of carbon monoxide injury and death stats involving keyless vehicles, so numbers may be grossly underestimated.
Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless and deprives the heart, brain and vital organs of oxygen. Victims who survive may have irreversible brain damage.
Houseboat Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The Coast Guard has mandated recalls of certain houseboats to redirect the generator exhaust beyond the swimming platform space. Houseboat manufacturers have posted warning labels to advise houseboat users to stay away from swimming platforms when engines are running.
A problem has been that carbon monoxide does not quickly dissipate and can remain after engines are shut down. Houseboat warning labels often tell users to stay out of the water when engines are running, but may not explicitly warn about CO buildups. Many monohull houseboats are still manufactured with a dangerous exhaust design, making swimming platforms more dangerous than necessary.
The carbon monoxide poisoning issue goes beyond only monohull houseboats, however. Since all combustion engines produce CO, all boat owners should be aware of a potential risk. Another risk may be rafting boats together or mooring a houseboat against a dock can trap CO. Other boats may actually be defective by design and there is no safe way to operate them without the risk of CO poisoning.
CPAP Machine Injury
Defective CPAP machines can cause serious injuries and deaths when they malfunction and deliver carbon monoxide to the end user. A defective CPAP machine that delivers CO2 can cause seizures and brain damage.
CPAP injuries may be more common than most consumers think, and CPAP malfunction can lead to unfortunate circumstances and product liability lawsuits.
Carbon Monoxide Injuries
To keep a safe household or workplace, it is important to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has offered some basic guidelines to prevent CO gas leakage to protect homeowners and workers. The following can help reduce the risks associated with CO exposure:
- Keep gas appliances in good working order, and use them safely
- Do not operate gasoline-powered engines or tools inside buildings or in partially enclosed areas
- Do not use gas ranges or ovens for heating purposes
- Make sure all rooms of a house or workplace are well-ventilated and that vents are unobstructed
- Have chimneys and flues regularly swept
- Wear a mask when using products that contain methylene chloride—methylene chloride turns into CO when it is inhaled
- Do not leave gasoline-powered motors running in a garage (motorbikes, cars, or lawn mowers)
- Do not use charcoal on an indoor barbecue
- Do not use a generator within 20 feet of a window, door or air intake
- Service motor exhaust pipes on a motor vehicle regularly
- Install and maintain carbon monoxide alarms at home and workplaces