Things to Know About CO Poisoning Risks for Children and Pregnant Woman
As you are likely aware, carbon monoxide (CO) is a toxic, tasteless, odorless gas which is a by-product of fossil-based fuel sources such as wood, oil, propane, gasoline, kerosene, natural gas, and others. Every fuel-burning appliance in your home (stove, furnace, fireplace, water heater, etc.) produces carbon monoxide. If you have one or more of these appliances, you and your children are at risk of being exposed to CO poisoning.
How concerned should I be?
Medical studies show that in utero, CO readily crosses the placenta. With fetal hemoglobin having a higher affinity for CO than oxygen (240 times) and the CO elimination taking longer in the fetal circulation compared to maternal circulation, fetal hypoxia may ensue, potentially resulting in permanent fetal brain damage and stillbirth at high maternal CO exposures (1). Prenatal CO exposure has been shown to result in decreased birth weight, small infant head circumference, behavioral abnormalities, and disruption in cognitive function (2).
The World Health Organization (WHO) also shared their insight with parents. From data collected worldwide, their findings suggest children are especially vulnerable to CO exposure due to their developing nervous systems and high metabolic rates, and exposure to ambient CO levels close to those of the WHO threshold listed here are associated with an increased risk of low birth weight.
How can I or my children be exposed?
Inside your home, carbon monoxide can quickly build up to unsafe levels from any of the fuel-burning appliances mentioned above. When not vented properly, each can produce enough CO to make you sick in just a matter of minutes. Even more concerning, acute exposure to CO levels greater than 800 ppm (or less depending on the victim's age and health condition) can cause brain injury, cerebral edema, coma, and even death.
In many cases, unhealthy concentrations of CO are most often found in kitchen areas where gas stoves and ovens are used. Often these appliances are not vented properly and therefore expose users to potentially high levels of CO. Without a low-level CO detector installed, chronic exposure can go undetected for years, leading to a range of health implications.
A recent (April 2020) report by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health points out that while the health effects of acute exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning are well-established, the long-term health implications from low-level, long term exposure to CO is not as well-studied or understood. The report concluded that chronic exposure to low concentrations of carbon monoxide were found to be associated with adverse health effects on multiple organ systems, with substantial evidence demonstrating toxic effects on the brain and heart. And although exposure to CO can have a diverse effect with symptoms ranging from headaches and nausea at low concentrations to neurological damage and death at high concentrations, many instances of CO poisoning are preventable. How? With a low-level CO detector.
Although exposure to dangerous levels of CO is preventable, many instances of CO poisoning still occur in residential homes where low-level CO detectors are not present. In California alone, a tracking program estimated 643 emergency department visits due to non-fire-related CO poisoning in 2016, which resulted in associated expenses of $1.3 billion. And because CO is tasteless, odorless, and induces nonspecific symptoms, exposures often remain undetected by both victims and medical professionals. Considering our current medical climate and the challenges associated with Covid-19, a misdiagnosis could truly be life threatening.
What can I do to protect my family against CO poisoning?
Install quality, low-level carbon monoxide detectors designed to warn of unsafe levels before it’s too late. It's simple, fast, and effective.
To help you choose the right CO detector, below are links to models we've personally tested. Keep in mind these are not the Kidde, First Alert, or other name brand smoke/CO detectors found in retail stores. We do NOT recommend those and therefore do not sell them. If you must have a UL rated CO detector, consider the Defender CA6150 as it will allow you to monitor low levels of CO by manually pushing a button. It’s the best compromise between a UL 2034 rated CO detector and a low-level CO detector.