Jessamine County Coroner

Carbon Monoxide

In October, a couple from Murfreesboro, Kentucky had gone to Talladega to watch a race.  They were staying in an RV which they had borrowed from friends, and had no idea that anything was wrong with it.  They had gone to bed, and that was the last thing Allison remembered before waking up in the hospital a week later.  Her husband Craig wasn’t as fortunate.  They had been poisoned by carbon monoxide or CO gas from a faulty generator in the RV. She only survived due to extreme and unusual medical treatment.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning claims nearly 400 lives and causes 20,000 visits to hospital emergency departments each year.  Known as the “silent killer”, CO is formed when organic compounds such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal or wood are burned.

Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed because it displaces oxygen in the blood and literally deprives our heart, brain and other organs of oxygen.  CO has an affinity 19 times greater than 02 (oxygen) for the hemoglobin or red cells in our blood. Think of it as being 19 times more magnetic than oxygen.  Since the blood cells hold onto the CO so tightly, there is simply no way for the oxygen in the area to become attached to the blood cells. If we can’t get oxygen into our blood, organs and tissue begin to die, and within a very short period of time, death will occur.  Even with 100% oxygen, it is extremely difficult to successfully resuscitate someone who has succumbed to CO poisoning.  Symptoms of exposure include tightness across the chest, headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness or nausea.  This can progress to vomiting, confusion, collapse and loss of consciousness.

 Most people are knowledgeable about automobile exhaust containing this deadly gas, but are unaware of many of the other sources and the dangers they can pose.  In and around the home, improperly vented wood stoves, fireplaces, charcoal grills, propane heaters, grills and stoves, gas hot water heaters, gas and diesel generators and kerosene space heaters all produce carbon monoxide. 

Every winter, lives are lost when someone attempts to heat a home with one of these devices, which are not designed for safe use indoors.  Often a kerosene space heater is used when the temperature drops into the teens, to add a little extra heat to a room.  Of course, doors and windows will be closed, which prevents any ventilation, to allow escape of this dangerous gas.  While not all victims of carbon monoxide poisoning die, those who succumb usually do so in their sleep. 

To protect you and your family, follow these simple steps:

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home
  • Never use unvented gas/kerosene space heaters in your home
  • Don’t use a gas range or oven for heating your home
  • Never use a charcoal/gas grill indoors
  • Never use portable gas  camp stove indoors
  • Never use  a generator inside home, basement, garage or near window, door or vent
  • Never run car in garage even with door open. Drive the car out of the garage, and shut door to warm car up


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