Iron County, UT – With the winter season in full swing and with the amount of snow that has fallen in the area, authorities are putting out a warning to motorists.
The lethal consequences of carbon monoxide in engine exhaust (sometimes called the silent killer) is tragically illustrated by hundreds of people dying each year from CO poisoning caused by several factors.
One of these factors is a running vehicle inside a closed garage. Others die or become extremely ill in homes with attached garages. Still other causes of death involve people who are stranded in their car and leave the motor running to keep warm or driving or riding in a vehicle with a defective exhaust system.
These tragedies often occur when a vehicle has a poorly tuned engine, motorists drive vehicles with the trunk lid or rear tailgate open or with holes in the car body, allow children to ride under a topper on a pickup truck, or operate a vehicle in any enclosed building.
Problems are caused by the combustion in gasoline engines. These engines produce extremely high carbon monoxide concentrations. Even when a gasoline engine is properly tuned, it produces more than 30,000 parts per million of carbon monoxide in the exhaust stream before entering the catalytic converter. An exhaust leak can allow escape of CO before it has a chance to be converted to non-toxic CO2 before entering the catalytic converter. It enters the vehicle through holes or open windows. Exhaust systems must be gas and exhaust tight and sealed from the engine to the end of the tailpipe. An exhaust leak can allow escape of CO before it is converted to non-toxic CO2 in the catalytic converter.
So what do you if you become stranded or stuck in the snow? Some say to open a window on the downward side of the car and operate the engine only for a short time until the car warms up and then shut it off. But is that correct?
With the engine not running, snow may cover the exhaust pipe. An open window on the downward side of the car will likely be in a low pressure area where exhaust gases could collect and then be pulled into the car, especially if there happens to be an exhaust leak. Plus, the amount of carbon monoxide is much higher during initial start-up of the engine, and decreases dramatically after the catalytic converter warms. Continually starting the engine produces even more CO than letting the engine run. In older model cars and trucks without a catalytic converter, the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning increases.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that a significant hazard of unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning presents itself with each winter storm as a result of snow-blocked vehicle exhaust systems. Five-hundred deaths occur annually by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide has no taste, odor or color and, therefore, goes undetected while preventing the ability of the victims blood to carry oxygen. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, nausea, weakness, confusion and unconsciousness.