Carbon monoxide may not be able to be detected by humans without the use of specialized equipment, but it can nevertheless inflict serious injuries or result in death for those in the area if the concentration of the gas becomes too great. Unfortunately, and despite frequent public service announcements expressing the importance of a CO detector, carbon monoxide still represents the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States. Carbon monoxide can have both short-term and life-long consequence for those who have been exposed to sufficient concentrations. The experienced personal injury attorneys of Reiff & Bily can fight for those who have suffered a catastrophic injury and for those who have lost a loved one.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
As the popular public service announcement refrain often states, carbon monoxide is a gas that is tasteless, odorless and colorless. At least initially, the gas will not cause bodily irritation or effects. But, when this gas reaches certain levels of concentration and it is inhaled, it can act in such a way that it impairs or eliminates the ability of red blood cells to deliver oxygen to the body’s vital organs. When carbon monoxide cannot be sufficiently vented or dissipated and a person is present, carbon monoxide will bind to the chief oxygen-carrying cells in the blood: hemoglobin. The creation of carboxyhemoglobin impairs not only the transport and delivery of oxygen, but also the body’s utilization of it. When carbon monoxide is present in sufficient quantities, carboxyhemoglobin is formed readily because the attraction between hemoglobin and carbon monoxide is much stronger than the affinity between hemoglobin and oxygen. Thus, the only cure for carbon monoxide poisoning is to eliminate its concentration in the air or to move the affected individual to an area where the poison is not present.
What Are Common Sources of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Perhaps the most traditionally considered source of carbon monoxide and carbon monoxide poisonings are sources of heat found in the home. Often this includes gas, wood and oil heaters and gas and wood stoves. If these devices are improperly installed or if ventilation in the room is insufficient, carbon monoxide fumes will build up in the living space. If people are present and they do not ventilate the room and seek fresh air, they are likely to quickly feel the impacts of the gas build-up. However, when individuals are sleeping the risk is especially high as high carbon monoxide levels will not typically cause a person to awake. In situations like these, the risk of catastrophic injury or death by carbon monoxide poisoning is particularly pronounced.
While falling asleep in a running vehicle has always carried the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, a new and non-traditional source of poisoning has become apparent in recent years. The invention and rapid adoption of keyless ignition vehicles has given rise to a spike in carbon monoxide poisonings. This is because unlike in older model vehicles where the ritual of starting and stopping a car’s engine has been ritualized, the process of using an electronic starter has not. Furthermore, while the physical key accounts for human behavior by not allowing the key to be removed without shifting the gear into park and sounding an audible warning if the key is left in the ignition, keyless systems do not. In many cases, this failure to account for human behaviors can transform a momentary distraction into a fatal mistake.
What Are the Effects of Carbon Monoxide?
Inhalation of carbon monoxide can lead to both short-term and long-term effects. The first thing an individual who is breathing in unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide is likely to feel is a general sense of tiredness or fatigue. With time, those affected are likely to develop a dull frontal headache – the most commonly reported symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning. Other signs and symptoms include:
- Low blood pressure
- Elevated heart rate
- Visual hallucinations
If the individual does not obtain sufficient oxygen by seeking fresh air or otherwise venting the air, death is likely to occur. Even if the person is evacuated prior to death, depending on their exposure and deprivation of oxygen they are likely to suffer other adverse effects including potential permanent damage to the brain, other organs, and the central nervous system.
Even chronic exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can cause health problems. Low-level exposure is commonly associated with depression, lightheadedness, confusion, memory loss, and frequent headaches. While it is unknown whether chronic exposure can cause long-term neurological damage, some studies seem to indicate that memory and learning problems persist.
Rely on Our Experience After a Serious Injury
For more than three decades the personal injury attorneys of Reiff & Bily have fought for those who have suffered serious injury due to another person’s carelessness or due to a product defect. To schedule a free and confidential carbon monoxide injury legal consultation call our firm at (215) 274-0072 today.