The Silent Killer: Tactics for reducing exposure to carbon monoxide
Here at Taxi Baby, we strive to help parents travel safely without compromising their convenience. More often than not, this revolves around managing the risk our children face whilst travelling on the roads. However, there are plenty of other risks to our health and safety worth highlighting. One such risk is carbon monoxide poisoning.
Known as the ‘silent killer’, carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless noxious gas which makes detection extremely difficult. Symptoms range from headaches, dizziness, and nausea, to seizures, loss of consciousness and death.
There have been numerous carbon monoxide related fatalities reported around the world and Singapore is no exception. A couple were found dead in a multi-storey car park after leaving their engine idling whilst parked (link). According to the coroner’s report carbon monoxide had permeated into the cabin through the floor of the vehicle.
Carbon monoxide is produced during the combustion of fossil fuels like gas, oil, coal, wood etc from appliances and equipment such as stoves, ovens, heaters, cars, trucks, buses, diesel- powered generators, and open fires. So the risk predominantly exists in and around cars and your house.
To minimise exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning in and around your car, you can:
- Ensure your car is regularly serviced and that the exhaust system is inspected for leaks. Signs of an exhaust leak include poor fuel mileage, loud exhaust noises and potentially fume odours; but this is best assessed by a mechanic during routine maintenance.
- Do not leave your car running in a confined space such as a garage, especially if the garage is in close proximity to the living quarters. Always ensure your car is idling in an open air environment and do not congregate near the exhaust of a car that is stationary. In New Zealand, a family died (link) after the mother reportedly left their car idling in an attached garage, with the garage door down and the internal home access door ajar.
- Keep your car windows up and air-conditioner on in grid-locked traffic. Most modern cars have cabin air filters designed to remove noxious gases (including carbon monoxide), dust, odours etc. for vehicle occupants.
Around your house, you can:
- Install carbon monoxide detectors. These simple devices beep when carbon monoxide levels breach a preset limit and are relatively inexpensive at ~$50/unit;
- Ensure kitchens are well ventilated especially near stoves, fires, water heaters etc and use an exhaust fan when operating your stove. In Taipei, four young Singaporeans suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while on holiday (link). The gas originated from the water heater in the apartment in which they were residing, and they had closed all windows to the apartment because it was cold outside. They were rushed to the hospital and survived the incident.
- Power generators should be located away from the home in a well ventilated area.
In all of these environments, adequate ventilation is critical to ensuring that there is sufficient oxygen available and that carbon monoxide levels are diluted. The most common form of medical treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is breathing pure oxygen, and depending on the severity a hyperbaric oxygen chamber may be required. In less severe cases, simply moving in to fresh air will help until further medical treatment can be sought.
Following these steps will reduce your exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning and could help safeguard the lives of those that depend on you as well. If there are other topics on health and safety that you want to know more about, leave a comment down below and we’ll do our best to respond!