What is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas. It is produced when natural gas, propane or other fossil fuels fail to burn completely. Thus burning fuels such as wood, oil, natural gas, propane, kerosene, coal and gasoline can result in the creation of CO. CO is found commonly in smoke and is a chemical asphyxiant that can cause inhalation injuries.
CO is not poisonous in the typical sense, like a venomous snake bite. Instead, CO poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide takes the place of oxygen in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is essential to the body’s ability to distribute oxygen. Hemoglobin that has attached to CO instead of oxygen prevents this process and deprives the body of oxygen. The result is that life-sustaining oxygen-rich blood fails to reach your tissues and organs.
Like natural gas, carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. However, because CO is a by-product of the incomplete burning of natural gas, no odorant can be added that will make it recognizable. This makes it a “silent killer.”
Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of unintentional death. If a person is exposed to too much carbon monoxide it will greatly diminish their ability to absorb oxygen, which leads to fatal, or at a minimum, serious brain tissue damage.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu and include headaches, dizziness, nausea, weakness, loss of muscle control, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and sleepiness. Prolonged exposure to CO leads to unconsciousness, brain damage, and eventually death. Carbon monoxide is especially dangerous if it occurs while you are sleeping or intoxicated.
According to medical literature, other symptoms can include loss of consciousness, irritability, impaired judgment, confusion, vomiting, chest pain, dizziness, weakness, and serious and continuing headaches.
Some individuals may experience poor memory, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders, or experience depression or other chronic psychiatric conditions.
The indications of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle, but are life-threatening conditions. One should immediately seek medical care after carbon monoxide poisoning.
There are tests and diagnoses that doctors can undertake which can determine the exposure. A blood sample is the easiest method. Toxic brain injury can also be diagnosed through specific and highly technical brain scans, which will help identify the extent and area of exposure in the brain.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when certain household machines or appliances produce the gas as a byproduct of combustion processes. For example, a gas-powered hot water heater can give off fumes, that, if allowed to accumulate, may be very dangerous. Poorly ventilated spaces can accelerate the process and result in an excessive amount of carbon monoxide.
The leading cause of the carbon monoxide poisoning is inhalation of combustion fumes. The following is a list of common appliances and products that can result in the formation of carbon monoxide as a byproduct:
- Car and truck engines
- Wood burning stoves, furnaces, space heaters
- Portable generators
- Water heaters
- Charcoal grills and garage ranges
- Any appliance that relies on combustion, which is not kept in good working order or is in a tight space can have carbon monoxide as a byproduct.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There are several actions you can take to prevent carbon monoxide exposure. We will discuss the two biggest ones below
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarms
How can you help protect yourself from something you can’t see, smell, or taste?
The answer is a carbon monoxide alarm.
They range in complexity and price from as little as $20 for a wall plug-in all the way up to an integrated home alarm system.
But regardless of price or complexity, the alarm is only useful if you pay attention to the warnings it provides. Consider the story of Lynn McNelly:
Carbon monoxide accidents in the home are normally caused by appliance malfunctions that you can’t see or detect. You won’t know that an accident is happening because the gas is undetectable by human senses. The best thing to do is always err on the side of caution.
If a CO alarm goes off, evacuate any enclosed areas and head outside to fresh air. Leave doors and windows open as you exit to allow fresh air to clear out the already built up CO.
Because CO can confusion and decrease your decision making capabilities, evacuate as quickly as possible before taking secondary precautions such as contacting emergency number—including the fire department and your gas or heating companies.
Exposure to carbon monoxide can be fatal within minutes. Because this poisonous gas is odorless and tasteless, a carbon monoxide alarm is a vital safety device which can prevent serious injury or death to you and your family by providing an early warning when dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are detected in your home.
Check Your Furnaces
Another safety precaution you should take is to get your furnace inspected annually.
Gas furnaces, as the name suggests, use gas as their heat source. A small, controlled combustion warms air that is then blown into the home with a fan. In addition to producing heat, the combustion inside a gas furnace creates byproducts—including carbon monoxide. If the furnace is installed and operating properly with adequate ventilation, the furnace safely and efficiently burns the gas needed for the combustion process and a non-hazardous amount of byproducts, including carbon monoxide are vented outside of the home where they dissipate. However, if the furnace is allowed to operate without adequate ventilation, incomplete combustion can occur creating a high risk of excess amounts of combustion byproducts, including carbon monoxide, entering the home.
Like any machine, furnaces break down over time. After creating and controlling thousands of small combustions, the internal mechanisms can become clogged or broken. It’s recommended that the furnace receive an annual safety inspection to make sure everything is functioning properly.
Home furnaces can also become clogged due to lack of use. During the summer months when it’s too warm to start the furnace, the ventilation system can become filled with leaves, debris or insects. These blockages can prevent poisonous carbon monoxide and other potentially toxic byproducts of the combustion process from being safely ventilated outside of the home. If carbon monoxide is unable to pass through the ventilation system due to blockage or defects in the system, the poisonous gas can mix with the air heated in the furnace, travel through the ductwork and enter your home. An annual inspection to check for blockages or defects in the ventilation system connected to your furnace will ensure this extremely dangerous and often fatal scenario does not occur in your home.
Liability for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Many cases of carbon monoxide are caused by the negligence of a business or person. Below are some examples:
- Malfunctioning appliances are a major cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. If the malfunction is due to a defective product, the manufacturer may be held liable for any injuries caused by the product or appliance.
- Improper maintenance of furnaces in rental units, a workplace, or a hotel can expose residents, workers, or guests to carbon monoxide. These parties can be held liable if they didn’t take reasonable, proper safety precautions.
At Walker Morgan, we can investigate your situation and identify parties that may be liable for your injuries. We will work with medical and other experts to link your injuries directly to the carbon monoxide exposure. By doing so, we may be able to help you file a personal injury claim.
By filing a personal injury claim, you may be able to receive compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses related to the treatment of injuries caused by CO exposure
- Lost wages due to being unable to work
- Pain and suffering
If a person died due to carbon monoxide exposure, their surviving family may be able to bring a lawsuit on their behalf.
Our Attorneys Are Ready To Help You
If you feel you or one of your loved ones has been poisoned by carbon monoxide, immediately seek medical attention. After that, consider consulting with a lawyer. Legal rights exist, and we urge you to contact the experienced attorneys at WALKER MORGAN at 1-888-779-6889. We offer free consultations and will fight for you to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries.