Carbon monoxide is colourless, odourless, tasteless and potentially fatal gas – which makes it vitally important that you know how to prevent and notice problems.
How are you at risk?
Gas, oil, coal boilers, fires, car exhaust fumes and wood burning stoves have the potential to produce harmful levels of CO gas if the appliance is not installed, ventilated, or operated correctly.
Check the colour of the boiler’s flame in your home and accommodation; bright blue is completely normal, while a yellowy orange colour means there is a possible carbon monoxide presence – unless it is a fuel effect fire or an appliance without a flue, which actually display blue flames.
Also keep a look out for yellow/brown staining on appliances and get a qualified technician to inspect appliances if a pilot light blows out. If there appears to be more condensation inside windows than usual, then this is also a common signal of a carbon monoxide problem. Ensure that wood being burned is “seasoned”, which means aged, processed for burning and air-dried firewood that burns very hot and clean. These “seasoned woods” are widely available online. Dry wood can be usually spotted by splits across the grain on the ends of the wood. It is advised to have any wood indoors for a week or so to ensure dryness before it is actually burnt.
Do NOT under any circumstances burn painted wood.
Blocked flues and chimneys can also cut off ventilation and prevent CO from leaving premises, so these need to be cleaned and checked regularly.
Cars should never have their engines left running in closed garages for heat or light etc and should be only started in highly ventilated spaces.
If you are concerned about the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning whilst on holiday in the UK or abroad, you may wish to take a battery-operated carbon monoxide alarm with you.
Have any heat-creating appliances checked by a professional technician. However, it is important that the technician is registered with the Gas Safe Register for gas boilers check-ups and Oftec for Oil heating system servicing.
Chimneys should be unblocked once a year to ensure that ventilation is up to standard. Blocked flues and chimneys – which can be caused by any number of unconventional problems – mean the gas can’t escape and is inhaled by the unsuspecting individual.
Health evidence of carbon monoxide
People exposed to small levels of carbon monoxide often display flu like symptoms such as:-
However, you will not be suffering from a high temperature like if you were suffering from a flu virus.
Severe poisoning is obviously more serious and can be fatal, with the CO gases stopping the blood functioning correctly, causing the following:-
Some symptoms can occur a few days or even months after exposure to carbon monoxide. These may include confusion, loss of memory and problems with coordination.
Good ways to spot poisoning may be a possibility if other people you are staying with are also suffering similar symptoms. The symptoms may disappear if you leave the location for a couple of days. This is obviously more likely to occur during the winter when heating is being used.
Since the 1st October, 2010 (UK), where a new or replacement fixed solid fuel appliance is installed in a dwelling, a carbon monoxide alarm should be provided in the room where the appliance is located. They need to comply with BSEN 50291:2001 and be powered by a battery designed to operate for the working life of the alarm. The alarm should incorporate a warning device to alert users when the working life of the alarm is due to pass. ‘Type A’ carbon monoxide alarms with fixed wiring (not plug-in types) may be used as an alternative provided that they are fitted with a sensor failure warning device.
It is, however, good advice for carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in every home, as they provide an instant warning for any problems.
If you suspect that your accommodation has a presence of carbon monoxide, switch off the appliance and gas supply, then leave the location immediately. You will be able to contact technicians/landlords/hotel staff to report the suspected problem while safely in a different location. You can call the National Grid on their free 0800 111 999 number for advice.
Your doctor and hospitals will be able to check your blood and breathe for potential CO problems, but there would be no need for medical treatment in minor cases, as the clean air will restore your blood back to normal. CO leaves the blood after approximately four hours, so do get checked immediately. Make sure that you state that you suspect that your symptoms are from carbon monoxide.
The more severe cases may require oxygen through a tight-fitting mask to boost the oxygen levels in the blood and remove the carbon monoxide from the haemoglobin in the blood. Any problems (vision and coordination) noticed since the treatment should be reported to your doctor.
However, treatment for pregnant women needs to be continued for longer, as even if there is no evidence of carbon monoxide in the patient’s blood, the medical team will want to make sure that there is a no carbon monoxide in the blood of the foetus.
There is no alternative to proper installation and maintenance of your appliances but fitting a CE-approved audible carbon monoxide alarm is a good second line of defence.
Further useful carbon monoxide safety advice