Recently, nine children and two adults were hospitalised in Tasmania, following exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) gas in their home due to their use of a charcoal grill. Fortunately, the family has since been discharged from hospital, but their near-miss exposure highlights the importance of remaining conscious to the dangers of carbon monoxide and understanding the means that can be undertaken to minimise these risks.
What is Carbon Monoxide and what produces it?
Carbon monoxide forms following the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels, including natural gas, wood, kerosene, and petrol. These fuels have applications in gas heaters, generators, wood fires, and more. Their improper use results in a dramatically increased risk of carbon monoxide exposure.
Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning through simple prevention measures
Carbon monoxide bonds to red blood cells more readily than oxygen does, greatly inhibiting the transport of oxygen to the brain and other tissues. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, and confusion. As carbon monoxide gas is both colourless and odourless, the source of these symptoms is often difficult for victims to determine. For this reason, safety authorities recommend the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in all homes.
However, the use of carbon monoxide detectors exclusively is not enough. The correct use of carbon monoxide producing products is also essential. Adequate ventilation is also required throughout the year, including the use of appliances in open areas, and the installation of adequate exhaust and flue systems. Outdoor appliances should never be used indoors. This includes outdoor charcoal grills, barbeques, gas camping stoves and flameless gas heaters. Engine exhaust from Vehicles – both gas and diesel - also contains significant amounts of carbon monoxide, and vehicles should not be run inside enclosed garages.
Correct fitting of flue systems is also necessary. Two years ago, two men were killed aboard a moored boat in Tasmania due to the improper fitting of a generator exhaust flue. Flues should only be installed and serviced by qualified gas fitters, and inspected every two years.
Chimneys for indoor wood burners should be swept before the beginning of seasonal use. Indoor fires should also never be stoked with treated, unseasoned, or painted wood. The NSW EPA provides a comprehensive guide on the use of wood burners indoors. Understanding the sources of carbon monoxide, the associated risks, and the precautions that can be taken to minimise harm, is crucial to the health of both individuals and their families.
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Resources and References
NSW Government Health
Energy Safe Victoria