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Street SmartŪ Facts on Carbon Monoxide - The Silent Killer...

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Symptoms of CO poisoning
CO enters the body through breathing. CO poisoning can be confused with flu symptoms, food poisoning and other illnesses. Some symptoms include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness or headaches. High levels of CO can be fatal, causing death within minutes.

Carbon Monoxide Data Sheet
Carbon monoxide: CO
Hazard Flammable: will explode; LEL 12.5%
Auto Ignition Temperature: 1128* F
Classification: Health: extremely toxic
Synonyms: carbon oxide, flue gas, monoxide

Exposure Limits:

  • (OSHA) PEL\TWA: 50 ppm
  • (ACGIH) STEL: 400 ppm / 15 min.
  • (OSHA) IDLH: 1500 ppm / 30 min.
  • Industries: steel mills, fire departments, garages, loading docks, electrical utilities, and general industries.
  • Carbon monoxide is a colorless gas. To the human senses it is invisible.
  • Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of combustion and will appear naturally in any situation where burning has taken place.
  • Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas which is termed a toxic asphyxiant, meaning it reduces the oxygen transport properties of the blood. It reacts with the hemoglobin in the blood forming carboxyhemoglobin, which prevents the hemoglobin from transferring oxygen.
  • Low ppm doses of carbon monoxide can cause headaches and dizziness. If the victim is removed to fresh air no permanent damages will result. High doses can be fatal.

Effects of Various CO Levels

  • 50 - Permissible Exposure Level for 8 hours (OSHA)
  • 200 -Possible mild frontal headache in 2 to 3 hours.
  • 400 -Frontal headache and nausea after 1 to 2 hours. Occipital after 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours.
  • 800 -Headache, dizziness, and nausea in 45 minutes. Collapse and possible death in 2 hours.
  • 1600 -Headache, dizziness, and nausea in 20 minutes. Collapse and death in 1 hour.
  • 3200 -Headache and dizziness in 5 to 10 minutes. Unconsciousness and danger of death in 30 minutes.
  • 6400 -Headache and dizziness in 1 to 2 minutes. Unconsciousness and danger of death in 10 to 15 minutes.
  • 12,800 -Immediate effects-unconsciousness. Danger of death in 1 to 3 minutes.

CO Meters vs. Detectors
The Setauket Fire Department uses three different instruments for both monitoring and detecting CO. A CO Meter (monitor) can be either a single gas METER (1) or Multi-gas METER (2). These can be found on E-8, E-14, L-2, R-6 & R-7. These METERS can be used to be detect a presence of CO as well as monitor its level and lead you to the source of the CO leak. This process shall be conducted by trained personnel in full PPE and SCBA. Ventilation and evacuation procedures shall be adhered to and follow direction of the IC after sending your report to command. Teams of two shall always be used to monitor CO. Two different METERS shall be used while monitoring for CO.

A CO DETECTOR is a single gas detector similar to the one that should be in your home. These DETECTORS are exactly what they are called a DETECTOR. One the DETECTOR alarms the area shall be immediately evacuated with a patient if applicable. These DETECTORS are not to be used to Monitor CO or search for the source of CO. After evacuating the area, immediate notification shall be made to Command or Fire Dispatch notifying them of a CO DETECTOR activation and that your are evacuating the area. These DETECTORS shall not be used as a METER or MONITOR. These CO DETECTORS can be found on the trauma/O2 bag of each Ambulance and first responder car. See the attached SFD CO DETECTOR policy.

Additional CO Facts
Physical Properties:

  • Invisible, odorless and tasteless
  • Results from incomplete burning of fuels
  • Un-vented kerosene and gas space heaters
  • Leaking chimneys & furnaces
  • Gas water heaters
  • Back drafting from furnaces
  • Wood stoves& fireplaces
  • Gas Stoves
  • Automobile exhaust
  • Tobacco smoke
Health Effects:
At low concentrations
  • Fatigue in healthy people
  • Chest pain in people with heart disease
At higher concentrations
  • Impaired vision and coordination
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion and nausea
  • Fatal in concentrations lower than 1 percent.
Levels in Homes:
  • Average levels in homes without gas stoves are between 0.5 and 5 ppm
  • Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves vary between 5 and 15 ppm
  • Levels near poorly adjusted gas stoves may be 30 ppm or higher

    * Portion of information from Source: American Industrial Hygiene Association

    By Joe DiBernardo
    E-Mail: training@longislandrescue

  • Hydrogen Sulfide

    Discuss at roll call and company drill.

    In August 2008, law enforcement and fire units responded to a suicide involving hydrogen sulfide in Pasadena, California. The victim, found dead in his car, had mixed a fungicide and toilet bowl cleaner in a plastic tray to produce a fatal concentration of hydrogen sulfide gas. First responders saw the tray with a *bright blue liquid* in the back seat of the vehicle. The man had placed a note on the car to warn first responders. Inhalation of hydrogen sulfide has become a popular means of suicide in Japan and could become more popular in the U.S. as publicity about these incidents spreads.

    Lessons Learned/Reinforced

    1. When responding to incidents, especially possible suicides, members should be aware of the possibility of encountering hydrogen sulfide gas, a potentially lethal toxic chemical.
    2. Units are reminded to expect the unexpected. Stay focused and avoid complacency; remember, no operation is routine.
    3. Transmit by radio to all units that are responding that it is a Hazmat incident. Early recognition of a hazardous materials incident and ensuring the health and safety of responders is paramount to the success of an operation.
    4. Ensure proper SCBA usage at all hazardous material operations.
    5. Effects of exposure to hydrogen sulfide include the following:
      1. Low concentrations: eye irritation, sore throat, cough
      2. Intermediate concentrations: shortness of breath, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, pulmonary edema.
      3. High concentrations: is potentially fatal; it can result in immediate incapacitation with loss of breathing, even after a single breath.
    6. Although the incident was a suicide, it demonstrated the potential for easily produced hydrogen sulfide to be used as a chemical weapon in a terrorist attack. As responders we may be presented with a variety of incidents ranging from an individual overcome by the improper mixing of cleaning solutions to a chemical weapon terrorist attack.
    7. Potential production of hydrogen sulfide gas may be identified by the collection of commonly used household items seemingly out of place, ie: paints, pesticides, toilet bowl cleaners, and disinfectants.
    8. Although The Department of Homeland Security has no information that terrorists are planning attacks in the U.S. using hydrogen sulfide gas, members should exercise caution if they suspect the presence of hydrogen sulfide.

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