According to a new report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), carbon monoxide fatalities caused by common consumer products have been on the rise for seven years. The report revealed that common engine-driven tools, such as generators, lawnmowers, and power washers, accounted for the largest portion of carbon monoxide poisoning fatalities unrelated to home fires. Heating systems were the second most common source of deadly carbon monoxide poisonings, and most of these poisonings occurred in the home. Experts emphasize the importance of knowing the common sources of carbon monoxide in the home and installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house to protect against the gas’s potentially deadly effects.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas released when fuels such as charcoal, diesel, gasoline, and propane are burned, posing a danger when enclosed spaces accumulate it. Consumer products, including vehicles, gas stoves, and power tools, have been found to be significant sources of carbon monoxide poisoning. The CPSC report found that portable generators, which can release the deadly gas when operated indoors, were responsible for an estimated 765 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths out of nearly 2,000 caused by consumer products between 2009 and 2019. The report also found that men and people over 45 were overwhelmingly the majority of people killed by carbon monoxide from consumer products, and more deaths occurred during winter.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is difficult to detect since it is odorless and colorless, and its symptoms can be nonspecific, often seeming like flu symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea. The gas can also cause more severe symptoms, including vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, and even death. People who are sleeping or have been drinking can pass away of carbon monoxide poisoning before symptoms occur, and smokers with higher baseline carbon monoxide levels may be at an increased risk. Long-term damage from carbon monoxide poisoning can occur even with mild symptoms, and clinicians recommend administering 100% oxygen until symptoms subside and hyperbaric oxygen therapy in severe cases or for pregnant women.
The very best way to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from household products is by having heating systems professionally inspected each year, install carbon monoxide detectors in multiple areas of the home, and avoid bringing sources of carbon monoxide into enclosed places. It’s also important to test carbon monoxide sensors regularly and make sure they have battery backups for power outages. Manufacturers have been under pressure to make generators safer with automatic shut-offs, but running generators outside at least 20 feet from a building and using an extension cord to bring the power indoors is still significantly safer than running them indoors. Despite the rise in carbon monoxide deaths from consumer products, overall rates of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths are still trending down thanks to increased awareness of the issue.
Signs of Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that is released when fuels like charcoal, gasoline, propane, and natural gas are burned. Exposure to high levels of CO can be deadly. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be mild, moderate, or severe and may include the following:
- Weakness or fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion or disorientation
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
Since the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of other illnesses, such as the flu, it is important to recognize the signs of carbon monoxide exposure and seek medical attention immediately if you suspect that you or someone else has been exposed.
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