Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week 2016

Often referred to as ‘the silent killer’, carbon monoxide poisoning still puts over 4,000 people in the UK in hospital every year, despite an increased understanding of its effects. Many homes and businesses are susceptible to the dangers of carbon monoxide leaks – often without inhabitants realising – so it is vitally important to be aware of how CO poisoning can occur and how best to prevent it.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Formed as a result of partial oxidation of carbon-based materials, carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas formed from one carbon atom and one oxygen atom, making it lighter than air.

It is difficult to detect due to a lack of odour, colour and taste, which is partly responsible for its ‘silent killer’ tag, and is associated with being a by-product of heavy industry. However, carbon monoxide has a number of positive uses too, such as playing a part in manufacturing and medicine, and has even been proposed as a fuel source on Mars, where it occurs naturally in large quantities.

How is it Produced?

CO is produced wherever there is burning fuel. For example, volcanic areas experience high levels of carbon monoxide, but large, man-made forest fires and car exhausts (particularly those without catalytic converters) are also big culprits, as are cities with a big industrial presence.

When there is a fire in an enclosed space, such as a living room, much of the oxygen can be displaced by carbon dioxide, which in turn stops the fuels from completely burning and creates carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is also present in higher levels in the bloodstream of smokers, putting them at an increased risk of CO poisoning.

The Danger Signs

Carbon monoxide can be highly toxic to all red-blooded animals when present in large quantities (over 35 parts-per notation). Poisoning manifests itself in the form of nausea, dizziness, lethargy, headaches, a difficulty in thinking clearly and even skin deformation in extreme cases. As these symptoms are common to many ailments, CO poisoning can go unnoticed, so be sure to ask your GP for a blood test if you suspect you may be suffering from carbon monoxide exposure.

Soot stains in areas around open fires or boilers can be an indication of fuels failing to burn completely, and therefore increased risk of carbon monoxide. Don’t assume that, just because your home doesn’t have an open fire, you are safe from CO poisoning – you may share a chimney stack with someone who does.

Awareness Week

Held in November every year, Carbon Monoxide Awareness week aims to increase understanding as to the risks connected with CO poisoning, as well as some of the common traits and signs to look out for in order to avoid serious, long term exposure.

Promoting the use of carbon monoxide detection in the home, the event also spreads awareness of the emergency gas number – freephone 0800 111 999 – which should be called in the event of a suspected CO leak.