Automobile Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Danger in Winter Storms


ATLANTA--The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that a significant hazard of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning presents with each winter storm as a result of snow-blocked vehicle exhaust systems.

In a two day period January 8-9, 1996, 22 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning were reported. These occurred during a major blizzard in the northeastern United States.

500 deaths occur annually with seasonal increases during winter. Carbon monoxide has no taste, odor or color and, therefore, goes undetected while poisoning the ability of the victim's blood to carry oxygen.

When the end of the exhaust pipe is obstructed by snow, carbon monoxide can leak from cracks in the exhaust system, through the floorboard of the vehicle potentially resulting in death from inhalation.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, nausea, weakness, confusion, and unconsciousness.

Treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning includes therapy with 100% oxygen by mask. High pressure oxygen is given to patients with abnormalities of the heart or nervous system, pregnant women and children with confusion.

It is recommended that drivers should inspect exhaust pipes to be certain they are cleared of snow before starting vehicles that have been parked in snow. Further CDC recommendations include "avoiding running automobile engines in enclosed spaces (e.g., garages), inspecting furnaces each year, using space heaters only in well-ventilated rooms, and inspecting exhaust systems of all combustion appliances that vent to the outside to ensure that vents have not been damaged or blocked with snow."

To these recommendations editors of Medicine Net would also add regular auto exhaust pipe inspections for cracks, which could leak toxic fumes into the air breathed by passengers, even during a mild summer day.

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