Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that kills people. You can’t smell it — it has no odor. You can’t see it — it has no color and it doesn’t produce smoke or haze. And it’s produced by all sorts of things that people use at home, school, and work every day.
Carbon monoxide comes from the burning of things like wood and coal, as well as natural gas, propane, oil, and kerosene. Cars give off CO; so do lawn mowers, motorcycles, cars, and portable generators. Heating units in homes, offices, schools, dorms, and stores all give off CO as they burn fuel to heat the place.
In fact, most people die from inhaling fumes given off by fireplaces; furnaces; room heaters; and portable generators (commonly used in our part of the country during severe weather when the power goes out).
Sadly, there will be deaths this year in Indiana and Illinois caused by inhaling this toxic invisible gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning deaths are reported every year — and many more CO victims are harmed and in need of medical treatment at emergency rooms after breathing in CO fumes. They’re lucky to survive the exposure to the poisonous gas.
Landlords, hotel operators, schools, employers, daycare operators, and home owners are all responsible for checking things like fuel-burning appliances (ranges, for instance) as well as equipment that is powered by a fuel-burning engine (like generators) to make sure that they are in good working order and they are not releasing CO fumes into the atmosphere where the gas can be inhaled by clients, customers, workers, children, students, and other potential victims.
All too often, property owners and landlords are more concerned with the bottom line than with safety and things like building codes and municipal ordinances regarding CO safety requirements get ignored. They may or may not install CO alarms — and even if they do, they may not keep them operational.
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
It is possible to notice symptoms of CO poisoning in time to get away from the fumes and get help. Those that are inhaling carbon monoxide will exhibit signs of carbon monoxide poisoning long before they pass out. These include:
- Fatigue, Very Tired, Sleepy
- Hard to Breathe, Shortness of Breath
- Confused, Fuzzy Thinking
If someone has trouble walking or standing; begins vomiting; or has trouble understanding or communicating, then their exposure to carbon monoxide is becoming more serious and they are reaching a more toxic level of the gas in their system. Someone who has lost consciousness needs immediate medical care.
Anyone thought to be exposed to CO poisoning needs to be moved away from the possible source of the gas immediately. Do not assume that flu-like symptoms are just a virus: they may be symptoms of a low-level leak of carbon monoxide gas in the space.
What To Do If You Suspect CO Poisoning
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been exposed to carbon monoxide, then it’s important to get away from the possible source of the gas fast. Go outside, breathe fresh air. Call 911 and report your suspicions.
If there are co-workers, fellow students, other tenants, etc., that may also be exposed, then make sure to warn them and get everyone outside and away from the poison. Don’t wait for the police or emergency techs to do this: CO is deadly and can work fast.
For those that are injured or killed by carbon monoxide exposure, there may be criminal consequences for those responsible in allowing the gas to leak into the environment. Law enforcement will investigate this, and the district attorney may proceed with charges. Federal agencies (like OSHA) may also be involved here.
For civil justice, however, the CO victims must look to state personal injury law and the legal redress available to them under Illinois and Indiana law for things like product liability, workers compensation, negligence, and other state laws that exist to protect against this kind of danger and protect recompense to those who have been victimized by the failure of another to do their duty and protect from harm.