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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
What Every Live Steamer Needs To
NOTE: A colleague of ours and an great
guy who I've worked with on many occasions nearly died in a carbon monoxide
poisoning incident. He was overcome by carbon monoxide while testing his
propane fired locomotive in his shop (November, 2007). He spent a week in the
hospital and is doing much better but still faces a long period of recovery.
His close brush with death can serve as a wake-up call to all of us about the
dangers of this silent killer.
Written by Jim O'Connor
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning, most everyone knows, is caused by breathing carbon
monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and
non-irritating which makes it nearly impossible for us to detect. Carbon
monoxide is a very toxic gas and is listed as the most common type of fatal
poisoning in the US and other industrialized countries. Carbon monoxide attacks
primarily the brain, central nervous system and heart.
How does CO happen? It's not a major by-product of burning fossil fuels as
most people think. A clean burning flame, like we want in our live steam
boilers, produces primarily carbon dioxide (or CO2).
CO2 is an inert gas found in soda-pop and in the
earth's atmosphere (the "greenhouse gas"). Carbon monoxide is that
poisonous gas that's produced when burning fuels under low oxygen levels (or
malfunctioning equipment). Low oxygen does not allow complete combustion
of the fuel. There's not nearly as much danger when you operate your car,
home heating system or live steam engine in an oxygen rich environment.
But if you have little or no fresh air to support combustion, your flame will
feed on it's own fumes. In this situation, the CO levels will build quickly.
It's In The Blood
When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it takes the place of oxygen in our red
blood cells. Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin in our cells 240 times
more strongly than oxygen causing oxygen deprivation throughout the body.
CO Poisoning Symptoms
Exposure to carbon monoxide will reduce oxygen to the brain causing the
victim to be confused and not able to assess his condition or understand he is
in trouble. Continued exposure will produce unconsciousness and brain
damage or death. In sudden, high levels of exposure symptoms could include
weakness and dizziness. These may be the only symptoms preceding collapse.
Lower levels of exposure over a longer term will produce headache, dyspnea on
exertion, decreased manual dexterity, impaired judgment and memory,
irritability, emotional instability, dizziness, fatigue, headache, drowsiness,
confusion, nausea, vomiting, palpitations, and impaired vision and hearing.
Click here for a complete list of symptoms.
What if you find a CO poisoning victim? Remove the victim immediately
from the exposure without endangering yourself (we don't want two dead people).
Call for help!. If the victim needs CPR, start administering it. The
ambulance EMTs will administer oxygen if they suspect CO poisoning. It's
not always easy to spot CO poisoning, so be sure to tell them.
Prevent CO Poisoning
You've heard this a thousand times. Use equipment that burns
fuel in a well-ventilated area. What you may not realize is that equipment
that burns propane will produce CO if fired in an enclosed area even if only for
a minute or two. Coal will do this, too, but with coal you get smoke
that's an indication as to the level of fumes or gasses in the area. Watch
out for those “torpedo heaters” or “salamanders”. These heaters should
never be used indoors. Do not run generators or pumps indoors or near the
house. Be aware of fireplaces and wood burning stoves. Those little
gas fired infrared heaters that burn LP or NAT gas can also produce CO.
Have your gas-burning furnace checked for a defective heat exchanger using an
inspection camera. An inspection mirror is not good enough. Have the
draft on your furnace and gas water heater checked, too. A blocked chimney
or flue pipe sends hundreds of people to the hospital each fall and winter.
If your group is planning to demonstrate live steam equipment indoors, be
aware of the need for ventilation and monitoring. If you can't do it
safely, don't do it. Use compressed air as an alternative to steam.
Usually installed in homes, carbon monoxide alarms should be placed near
heaters and other equipment. Carbon monoxide alarms do not need to be placed
near ceiling level. In the event a high level of CO is detected, an alarm
sounds. You may ventilate the area or leave the building right away. The
Consumer Product Safety Commission says “Carbon monoxide detectors are as
important to home safety as smoke detectors are” and recommends each home have
at least one carbon monoxide detector.
this one on Amazon for about $30.
Give a CO
detector to someone you love.
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