This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Fritzi Bodenheimer.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Winter conditions are affecting many
countries in Earth's northern hemisphere. 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.
Several years ago, a family 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
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.
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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. A few years
ago, 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 was greatest in
the month of January.
also found that carbon monoxide kills more than four hundred Americans each
year. And, it said, more than twenty
thousand people are taken to hospital emergency rooms for treatment of health
problems linked to the gas.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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 fuels like coal, gasoline,
kerosene, oil or wood will produce carbon monoxide.
Experts agree that the leading
cause of carbon monoxide poisoning is damaged equipment that burns these fossil
fuels. They say many people die or are
injured by the gas because they do not use these devices correctly.
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
monoxide gas is created by fuel burning devices because not all of the fuel is
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 releasing 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.
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.
monoxide does not quickly leave the body, even after treatment has begun. It can take several hours before the gas
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you suspect carbon monoxide is a problem in your home, you might call your
local fire department. Many firefighters
have the necessary equipment to find or identify the gas.
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 are
battery-powered. Experts say these 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 equipment powered by fossil fuels 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.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Fritzi Bodenheimer.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for more news about
science in Special English on the Voice of America.