The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” certainly doesn’t apply when it comes to our breathing air. That’s because chances are you’re unable to see or smell the pollutants that could be causing damage to your respiratory system. This is especially true for carbon monoxide, which is known as “the silent killer”. Because it is odourless and colourless, it is near impossible to detect. Therefore, it has sadly caused many deaths without warning.
“Carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of fatal poisonings in North America,” explains the Canada Safety Council, “Exposure to high concentrations can cause death in just a few minutes.” They go on to note that confusion – which is a symptom of carbon monoxide exposure – can actually interfere with an individual’s ability to realize that his or her life may be in danger. This is why immediate diagnosis is so important.
So what are the other major symptoms associated with carbon monoxide? Canada Safety Council reports that in low concentrations, people can experience a shortage of breath after just moderate activity as well as slight headaches, nausea and dizziness. In higher concentrations, people can suffer from severe headaches, mental confusion, dizziness, impaired vision and hearing and even fainting spells after exertion. Extreme concentrations have been known to cause unconsciousness, comas and death.
Who is most susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning? If you work in poorly ventilated areas where machines are regularly in use, you could be putting yourself at risk. “Any indoor workplace where engines are running presents a potential hazard. Workers must realize that fuel-powered machines can expose them to this deadly gas,” says Canada Safety Council, “Workers in confined spaces, such as mines, can be exposed to CO.”
How exactly does carbon monoxide affect us? You would think that if a gas is odourless and colourless, that it couldn’t possibly do a whole lot to harm us. Again, the “out of sight” theory doesn’t apply here. “CO blocks the absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream from the lungs, and poisons the red blood cells so they cannot carry oxygen. If body tissues do not receive a constant supply of oxygen, they stop functioning,” explains Canada Safety Council.
They go on to note that oxygen deprivation can severely damage the brain. In addition, carbon monoxide is also known to present serious complications in the reproductive process. The council points out that pregnant women stand a greater chance of miscarriage, stillbirth and low birth weight if exposed to carbon monoxide. Men aren’t immune either. “In men, genetic damage to reproductive cells, loss of potency, and abnormal sperm have been reported,” the organization reveals.
What can be done to protect ourselves from carbon monoxide? Thankfully, all hope is not lost. While carbon monoxide is odourless and colourless, it cannot sneak its way passed CO detectors. They should be present in all work areas where hazards may be present, says Canada Safety Council. Also, fuel-operated machinery should not be used indoors, if at all possible. As well, adequate respiratory equipment should be used when working in confined spaces.
What should be done if we feel sick? “Seek medical attention immediately if anyone shows symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as a severe headache, dizziness and nausea,” insists the council, “Take the exposed person into the fresh air as quickly as possible. Give artificial respiration if breathing has stopped, and administer oxygen if available.” Needless to say, your home and work space should be tested for the presence of carbon monoxide.
At DF Technical & Consulting Services Ltd., we provide Air Quality Services that seek to eliminate any air quality problems that could lead to severe issues with your health. We maximize our inspection processes to target any and all potential areas of concern – and carbon monoxide is a major concern. For more information, please don’t hesitate to call us at 1-855-668-3131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.