October 30, 2014 15:11 UTC

Science in the News

How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Correction attached

VOICE ONE:

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Faith Lapidus. Wintry conditions are returning to 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 of five was enjoying a holiday in the American state of California, near the Pacific Ocean. The family included five children and their parents. 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 along the Pacific coast. The camper did not have any heating equipment to warm the space while family members slept.

VOICE TWO:

Someone decided to heat the area by placing a charcoal grill inside the camper. The device burned a wood product, charcoal. The fire immediately warmed the family members. They all went to sleep.

The next day, other people 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 – 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 ONE:

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

This gas is a problem in all parts of the world that experience cold weather. Last year, America's Centers for Disease Control studied deaths linked to carbon monoxide poisoning. It found that the average number of carbon monoxide deaths in the United States is greatest in the month of January.

The study also found that carbon monoxide kills about five hundred people in the United States each year. And, the report said, about fifteen thousand people are taken to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of health problems linked to the gas.

VOICE TWO:

Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer because people do not know it is in the air. The gas 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 steals the body's ability to use oxygen.

Carbon monoxide decreases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen to body tissues. It does this by linking with the blood. When the gas 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 carbon monoxide.

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 ONE:

Carbon monoxide poisoning has warning signs. But people have to be awake to recognize them. Small amounts of the gas 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 pain as the amount of gas continues to enter their blood. They will begin to feel very tired and sleepy. They may have terrible stomach pains.

VOICE TWO:

Carbon monoxide is measured in parts per million in a normal atmosphere. Breathing in two hundred parts per million of carbon monoxide will cause the first signs of poisoning. It will result in head pain, stomach problems and a feeling of tiredness after two to three hours.

A level of eight hundred parts per million will cause a person to lose consciousness. Victims will not know what is taking place around them. This will happen within two hours of breathing in this amount of carbon monoxide. Twelve thousand parts per million of the gas will cause death in one to three minutes.

VOICE ONE:

Medical experts say carbon monoxide affects people 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 adult 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. Breathing low amounts of the gas for long periods of time can lead to permanent damage in the heart, lungs or brain.

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 fossil fuels like 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 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 like 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 way to expel the gas from the home. For example, a fireplace has a chimney. Natural gas stoves or gas water heaters are usually connected to a device that safely expels the gas from the home. 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 reduce chances of carbon monoxide escaping. 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 protect yourself from the effects of carbon monoxide. First, immediately leave the area if you recognize the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning in yourself or others.

Seek emergency medical services after you leave 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 such poisoning.

Carbon monoxide does not quickly leave the body, even after treatment has begun. It can take several hours before the gas disappears.

VOICE TWO:

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

In many countries, it is possible to buy and use a special device that will warn when harmful levels 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 special devices should be placed near sleeping areas in the home.

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

(MUSIC)

VOICE ONE:

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.

VOICE TWO:

And I'm Faith Lapidus. Read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America. 

___

Correction: This story refers to a "family of five" and says the family "included five children and their parents." Five children plus two parents would, of course, equal a family of seven. 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Orbital Sciences Antares Launch

    Video Questions for NASA after Rocket Explosion

    An unmanned privately-owned rocket bringing supplies to the International Space Station exploded seconds after launch Tuesday night. The accident did not cause any injuries on the ground. However, it has raised questions about efforts by the US space agency NASA to use private companies. More

  • FILE - Zambia's new interim president is Guy Scott.

    Audio Guy Scott Named Interim Leader in Zambia

    Guy Scott is Africa’s first white president since F.W. de Klerk governed South Africa from 1989 to 1994. Chinese former army General has admitted to taking huge bribes. U.S airlines do not know where a passenger began his or her travels for Ebola screening. Free Syrian Army helped Kurds in Kobani. More

  • Vietnam China Sea Disputes

    Audio Vietnam, China Look for Solution to Sea Dispute

    China and Vietnam have agreed to find a solution to a territorial conflict in the South China Sea. The two countries have sought to improve relations since the territorial dispute worsened last May. That was when China deployed oil drilling equipment to waters claimed by each side. More

  • Roberto Hernandez

    Video US Political Parties Hope to Gain Latinos' Vote

    United States citizens of Latin American ancestry could influence the U.S. elections on November 4th. Americans will vote for members of the House of Representatives, a third of the Senate, and state and local positions around the country. In California, Latinos are an important vote for Democrats. More

  • Kidnapped by Islamic State

    Video Youth Kidnapped by Islamic State Tells His Story

    Last June, Islamic State militants kidnapped more than 150 students from the city of Kobani in northern Syria. Many of those kidnapped were ethnic Kurds. The militants released most of the students several months later. But about 20 students remain in captivity. One of those freed is Azad. More

Featured Stories

  • Star House

    Video Home of Last Comanche Chief Close to Ruins

    One of the most interesting people in U.S. history is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the country’s Comanche Indian tribe. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Quanah Parker was a fierce fighter. But that ended one day in 1875. More

  • FILE - A veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia.

    Audio Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies

    About 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites. Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect, fewer humans with rabies. More

  • Methane oxidizing

    Photogallery Small Organisms in Deep Sea Rocks Eat Methane

    The gas methane has been linked to rising temperatures on Earth. But methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as another “greenhouse gas” -- carbon dioxide. Scientists say both gases trap heat from the sun. They prevent heat from escaping into outer space. More

  • New York Mayor Bill de Blasio meets children at the Brooklyn Chinese American Association Early Childhood Education Center. (AP Photo/Newsday, Linda Rosier, Pool)

    Audio Chinese Americans: Discrimination Still a Problem, but Improving

    Despite their American citizenship, some immigrants to the United States report they still are treated like foreigners. However, members of the Chinese American community say attitudes are starting to change. Helen Zia said, “Whenever US-China relations get chilly, Chinese Americans get pneumonia." More

  • Audio Oscar de la Renta Dressed First Ladies and Movie Stars

    Clothing designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday at his home in the American state of Connecticut. He was 82 years old. His wife said he died of problems related to cancer. Mr. de la Renta dressed American movie stars and first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs