Taking a nap locked inside the car with the motor and cooling system running can be fatal. The culprit is a silent but lethal gas known as carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and poisonous gas that is produced when there is an incomplete burning of hydrocarbon-based fuels due to insufficient oxygen. When combustion is incomplete, carbon and hydrogen combine to form carbon dioxide, water, heat and the deadly carbon monoxide. Anything that disrupts the burning process results in a shortage of oxygen and increases the production of carbon monoxide. Wood, coal, charcoal fires and gasoline engines always produce the poisonous gas.
Carbon monoxide is hard to detect because of its characteristics. It spreads quickly, especially in an enclosed area because it is slightly lighter than air. Emissions of carbon monoxide from vehicles are caused by defective emission system and poorly tuned engine. A leak in the exhaust system allows the escape of carbon monoxide before it is converted to non toxic carbon dioxide in the catalytic converter. The leaking of the poisonous gas can enter through the holes inside the car or open windows or doors. Old and dirty vehicles emit the highest concentrations of carbon monoxide and can leave a cloud of carbon monoxide whenever it is used. Running through the plume can cause health hazards to people. Smoke belching vehicles also contribute to carbon monoxide emission.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also happen at home. The potential sources include gas appliances (e.g. furnaces, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers), fireplaces, wood and coal stoves, charcoal grills, gas stoves, gas-powered mowers and power tools. Cigarette smoke also contains high levels of carbon monoxide as well as insecticides and other known poisons.
For carbon monoxide poisoning to occur, a person must breathe the gas which displaces oxygen in the body. Once inhaled, carbon monoxide bonds with hemoglobin and forms carboxyhemoglobin – a compound that inhibits the blood’s capacity to carry oxygen to organs and tissues of the body. The brain and heart is greatly affected because they require large amounts of oxygen and suffer quickly from its shortage. Even small amounts of carbon monoxide when inhaled are dangerous. Higher concentrations kill in less than 5 minutes.
Carbon monoxide poisoning includes flu-like symptoms such as headaches and dizziness, sleepiness, fatigue, irritability and confusion. Studies show that elevated carbon monoxide in the body affects driving skills, thus impairing driver’s ability to safely operate the vehicle without his knowing it. Continued exposure leads to vomiting, loss of consciousness, brain damage, heart irregularities, breathing difficulties, muscle weakness, abortion on pregnant women, and even death.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from vehicles:
•Never run engines in a garage, even if the garage door is open. •Ensure that your vehicle is properly tuned-up and running clean. •Check and repair exhaust system leaks. •Never take a nap inside your vehicle with all doors and windows closed.