This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special
English. I'm Bob Doughty.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
experts say small amounts of carbon monoxide over a long period of time can
greatly harm an unborn baby.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy
Steinbach. Our producer was Brianna
Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.
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.