Safety 360: The Hidden Danger of Carbon Monoxide
Most homes and businesses in Indonesia use bottled gas for cooking and for heating water, and these liquefied petroleum gas cylinders are convenient, simple to use and affordable for most people. However, because we have become so familiar with them, we often do not think of the associated dangers.
Most people will know not to use naked flames if they suspect that a gas cylinder is leaking and most people will recognize the pungent smell of LPG, but less well-known and far more dangerous are the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of death by poisoning in many countries. Carbon monoxide is particularly dangerous is because it has no taste, no color and, worst of all, it has no smell. It is produced by the incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels such as wood, oil, coal and, of course, gas. Normally these fuels are perfectly safe to use, and it is only when the fuel is not burned completely that an excess of carbon monoxide is produced.
Carbon monoxide enters the body through the nose and mouth and immediately starts to have an adverse effect on the body by preventing the blood from taking oxygen to the cells, body tissue and vital organs — and because it is so hard to detect it often kills without warning.
There are signs to look out for and sensible precautions every householder can take to minimize the risks. Look for the signs of incomplete combustion by checking to see if the flame your burner produces is yellow or orange instead of the usual blue color. Another good indicator of incomplete combustion is an increased level of condensation on the windows. If you have a pilot light on your appliance, does it frequently go out? Is there soot or brown or yellowish staining on or around your appliances?
Just to make things a little more complicated, the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are very similar to many common ailments and have been confused with such things as flu, viral infections and food poisoning, even simple tiredness. Things to look for are dizziness, breathlessness, nausea and headache.
So what should you do if you think that one of your appliances is producing carbon monoxide? Switch off the appliance immediately at the control valve or the main supply. Open all doors and windows and ventilate the rooms, including basement rooms. If you feel even the slightest ill effects as described above, visit a doctor immediately and mention that you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide.
The best thing to do is to buy a carbon monoxide detector for your home. These devices are very effective at detecting carbon monoxide, even at very low levels. Once installed, just like your smoke alarm, all you need to do is test it regularly and check the batteries.
For more information on carbon monoxide, go to: www.co-gassafety.co.uk
For more on Safety 360, see www.safety360.org
Eamonn Sadler is a writer and a columnist. He is based in Jakarta and was formerly a firefighter in Britain.