Accessibility links

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: A Silent Killer


(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

This is Steve Ember.

VOICE TWO:

And this is Shirley Griffith with the VOA Special English program, EXPLORATIONS. The winter season is arriving soon in the northern part of the world. Winter brings cold weather and with it a danger as old as man’s knowledge of fire. The danger is death or injury by carbon monoxide poisoning. Today, we tell about this ancient and continuing danger.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

Several years ago, a family in the western state of California was enjoying a holiday near the Pacific Ocean. The family included a father and mother and five children. The oldest child was twelve years old. The youngest was three. The family was spending the weekend in a camper. A camper is a small shelter carried in the back of a truck. People can sleep in it for a few days.

The weather turned cold the second night the family stayed at the beach. The camper did not have any heating equipment to warm the inside area while family members slept. Someone decided to heat the space by placing a cooking device called a charcoal grill inside the camper. The grill burned a wood product called charcoal. The fire immediately warmed the members of the family. They all went to sleep.

The next day, other people visiting the beach found the family. The parents and their five children had died in their sleep. They died because they did not know that burning wood products creates a deadly gas.

The deadly gas is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide poisoning is known as a silent killer. The California family went to sleep in their warm camper and never woke up.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

Carbon monoxide poisoning causes death and injuries throughout the world. The poison gas has been a problem since humans first began burning fuels to cook food or to create heat during cold weather.

More people die from carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States each year than from any other kind of poisoning. American health records show that this poison gas kills about two hundred twenty people each year. More than five thousand are taken to medical center emergency rooms for treatment. This dangerous gas is a problem in all areas of the world that experience cold weather.

Carbon monoxide gas is called the silent killer because people do not realize it is in the air. Carbon monoxide has no color. It has no taste. It has no smell. It does not cause burning eyes. And it does not cause people to cough.

Yet, carbon monoxide gas is very deadly. It is a thief. It steals the body’s ability to use oxygen.

VOICE ONE:

Carbon monoxide decreases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to body tissues. It does this by linking with the blood. When carbon monoxide links with the blood, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen to the tissues that need it. Damage to the body can begin very quickly from large amounts of this deadly gas.

How quickly this can happen depends on the length of time a person is breathing the gas and the amount of the gas he or she breathes in.

VOICE TWO:

There are warning signs of carbon monoxide. But people have to be awake to recognize them. Small amounts of carbon monoxide will cause a person’s head to hurt. He or she may begin to feel tired. The victim’s stomach may feel sick. The room may appear to be turning around. The person may have trouble thinking clearly.

People develop severe head pains as the amount of gas continues to enter their blood. They will begin to feel very sleepy and very tired. They may have terrible stomach pains.

VOICE ONE:

Carbon monoxide is measured in parts per million in a normal atmosphere. Breathing in only two hundred parts per million of carbon monoxide will cause the first signs of poisoning. This will happen after a two to three hour period of breathing in this small amount of gas. Twelve thousand parts per million of carbon monoxide will cause death in one to three minutes.

Medical experts say the gas will affect people very differently. For example, a small child will experience health problems or die much quicker than an adult will. The general health of the person or his or her age can also be important.

An older person with health problems may suffer the effects of carbon monoxide more quickly than a younger person with no health problems. People with heart disease may suffer chest pains. They may begin to have trouble breathing.

VOICE TWO:

Carbon monoxide does not always cause death. But it can cause many medical problems. Being exposed to low amounts of carbon monoxide gas for long periods of time can lead to permanent heart, lung or brain damage.

Medical experts say small amounts of carbon monoxide over a long period of time can greatly harm an unborn baby.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

What causes carbon monoxide gas? Any device that burns fuels such as coal, oil or wood can create the gas.

Water heaters that burn natural gas create carbon monoxide. Fireplaces and stoves that burn wood create the gas. Natural gas stoves and gas dryers or charcoal grills also create carbon monoxide. Automobiles create it. Any device that burns the fossil fuels such as coal, oil, wood, gasoline, kerosene or propane will produce carbon monoxide.

Experts agree that the leading cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is damaged equipment that burns these fuels. They say many people also die or are injured by the gas because they do not use these devices correctly.

Experts say any device used to heat a home should be inspected to make sure it is working correctly. And, no cooking equipment such as a charcoal grill should ever be used to heat an inside area.

VOICE TWO:

Carbon monoxide gas is created by fuel burning devices because not all of the fuel is burned. Most devices used for home heating have a method of expelling the gas to the outside. For an example, a fireplace has a chimney. Natural gas stoves or gas water heaters are usually connected to a device called a vent to expel the gas safely to the outside. An automobile has a system for expelling unburned gasoline under and behind the vehicle.

Anyone who uses a device that burns fossil fuel must inspect the equipment carefully to decrease the chances carbon monoxide gas will escape. Companies that produce the devices usually provide directions about using the device correctly. These directions should be read and understood before using any equipment that burns fuel inside a home.

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

You can do a number of things to lessen the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. First, immediately leave the area if you recognize the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning in yourself or others.

You should seek emergency medical services once you are away from the area where you suspect the gas might be. Usually the treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning involves breathing in large amounts of oxygen. However, a doctor will know the best method to treat the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide does not quickly leave the body even after treatment has begun. It can take several hours before the gas disappears. Medical experts say it can take about five hours for half of this poison gas to completely leave the blood.

VOICE TWO:

If you suspect carbon monoxide gas is a problem in your home, you might try calling your local fire department. Many fire departments have the necessary equipment to find or detect carbon monoxide.

In many countries, it is possible to buy and use a special device that will warn when harmful amounts of carbon monoxide are in the area. These devices can be linked to a home’s electric system. Others work with electric batteries. Experts say these devices should be placed near sleeping areas in the home.

VOICE ONE:

The most important weapon against carbon monoxide poisoning is the safe use of materials to heat any enclosed area. Safety directions that come with any heating equipment must be followed. Older fossil fuel burning heating equipment should be inspected to make sure it is safe every year. Knowledge about the dangers of this deadly gas could be the most important information you ever learn.

(MUSIC)

VOICE TWO:

This Special English program was suggested by a listener in China. It was written and produced by Paul Thompson. This is
Shirley Griffith.

VOICE ONE:

And this is Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another EXPLORATIONS program on the VOICE OF AMERICA.

XS
SM
MD
LG