Last Friday (the 13th), one of our employees – with a particularly keen sense of smell – detected a potentially deadly problem with our office’s air quality. Walking back and forth from the warehouse, our warehouse manager, Drew, (and his bloodhound-like olfactory sense) sniffed traces of gas that seemed to be emanating from the Sylvane break room. As an initial step, we confirmed the presence of a dangerous gas using our trusty Safety Siren Pro Series Combination Gas Detector. But when it was clear that the odor was growing stronger, we thought it was best to call in a natural gas expert to diagnose the problem and advise us on how to handle it. A half-hour later, we identified the scary pollutant – carbon monoxide. The culprit? More on that in a minute.
According to the National Safety Council, an estimated 300 people die each year from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and thousands more are admitted to emergency rooms with inhalation symptoms. Many people don’t know that inhaling even low levels of carbon monoxide can cause fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in those with heart disease. At higher CO concentrations, however, a person can experience worsening symptoms like impaired vision and coordination, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and/or nausea. All of these can lead to the possibility of death under prolonged CO exposure. This “silent killer” is virtually impossible to identify because it is odorless and colorless. That’s why it’s important to install an indoor carbon monoxide detector that will alert you if your CO levels grow deadly.
In our case, the level of carbon monoxide lingering in our break room was, thankfully, not considered dangerous. Regardless, we evacuated our office and soon found the culprit. Construction workers in the neighboring office suite were using gas-powered concrete cutters and, strangely, had left a pickup truck idling inside of the office – with very little ventilation. (Anyone ever hear of the book series “The Darwin Awards?” This could have been a great contender.)
After some time, the odorous gas fumes from the power tools (what Drew was most likely smelling) and the CO-rich exhaust from the truck’s engine traveled into our air handling system and circulated throughout our office. After lots of afternoon ventilation – and some serious talking with our neighbors next door – we were fine.
Reading about our experience will likely prompt you to take some time to educate yourself on the dangers of carbon monoxide and learn tips for how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Visit the websites below for loads of valuable – and possibly life-saving – information. And most importantly, please remember to operate your vehicles outdoors!