Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that cannot be seen, smelt or tasted, being colourless, odourless and, of course, tasteless. It’s chemical or shortened name is CO and consists of one Carbon and one Oxygen atom, hence CO.
Carbon monoxide is produced when incomplete combustion occurs in a fuel burning appliance. This happens when there is not enough oxygen to produce carbon dioxide. For such fuels as gas, oil, coal and wood, a process named pyrolysis happens before combustion. When incomplete combustion occurs, the pyrolsis products will not burn and they then contaminate the smoke. In fuel burning appliances, this can happen because of some kind of impingement on the flame or, more commonly the oxygen needed by the appliance is not correct and this is due to inadequate ventilation or a fault in the appliance.
When carbon monoxide gas leaks internally, then it becomes a danger to life. A faulty fuel burning appliance can produce lethal levels of CO gas in a very short time. Hundreds of people are exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning
every year and unfortunately, many of these end up in deaths.
Exposure to carbon monoxide gas can lead to a number of symptoms, depending on the levels that are being created. Very low levels in the air can produce mild side effects such as headaches and dizziness. Quite often the symptoms from low level poisoning could be mistaken as general lethargy or flu.
When CO levels reach 35 ppm and only after 6 to 8 hours of constant exposure, will headaches and dizziness be experienced. At 100ppm (parts per million), these headaches can occur after 2 to 3 hours constant exposure. With a higher dose, although only at 800 ppm, or 0.08% air density, then dizziness, nausea and convulsions can happen within 45 minutes. When the CO levels
hit 1600 ppm, symptoms are similar but death can now occur in less than 2 hours. Death occurs even faster, within 30 minutes at levels at 3200 ppm. If the parts per million reach 6400 ppm, then death happens in less than 20 minutes and when the carbon monoxide is at 12800 ppm or only 1.28% of the air, then death will occur in less than 3 minutes.
As death can occur so fast when humans are exposed to carbon monoxide poisoning it is imperative to have some kind of carbon monoxide detection available in every household, positioned in accordance with manufacturer instructions. This will sound an alarm when carbon monoxide levels are detected that will cause harm. This is obviously, a most important edition to any household and is something every home shouldn’t be without.
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