Carbon monoxide poisoning is a frightening prospect, as it is a gas which has no smell and can kill very quickly.
Recent newspaper reports about campers dying as a result of a tent becoming filled with fumes from a nearby gas BBQ have alerted holidaymakers to new dangers when camping.
But in 2011, researchers at Israel’s Tel Aviv University discovered that for those living in cities, a little CO could be beneficial to health.
There are many ways to come into contact with carbon monoxide. The most commonly known sources of the toxic gas are boiler fumes, heaters, gas cookers and BBQs. Normally CO fumes from cooking or heating are dispersed, but in certain circumstances, such as when gas equipment is not maintained, carbon monoxide fumes build up, causing a black edge to ceilings and condensation.
A little known source of carbon monoxide are cigarettes and it is easy to see how a in closed room with a heater, gas cooker and boiler and people smoking the atmosphere could easily turn into a death trap without ventilation.
The Tel Aviv scientists, however, despatched 36 individuals aged between 20 and 40 to walk Tel Aviv’s streets for two days and the research team from the Geography and Human Environment departments measured four aspects of city life, referred to as “environmental stressors” – temperature (heat and cold), noise pollution, carbon monoxide levels and the impact of crowds on the volunteers.
The study group was monitored for heart rate and the researchers used sensors measuring levels of environmental pollutants to extract data about the effects of city life on the group.
Surprisingly the scientists found that, not only did the study group inhale less CO emissions than expected – but the levels of carbon monoxide also appeared to have some health benefits.
The Environment Health Protection Agency says that low levels of carbon monoxide in the human body can lead to symptoms of tiredness – just as high levels can also cause sleepiness and drowsiness.
Low levels of carbon monoxide can also cause chest pain in those with heart conditions.
However, it is not advised that anyone expose themselves to levels of CO, as high concentrations can cause dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness and eventually death.
If you are ever in an environment where the air is fuggy from cooking or a water heater, heater or smoking and you begin to feel drowsy, dizzy or confused, open a window immediately.
All homes and rental properties should be fitted with CO detectors and these should be checked and supplied with fresh batteries regularly.
In city life a little carbon monoxide may be beneficial – but the volunteers were mobile and in good health. Sitting in an airless room or sleeping in a tent near an operational BBQ might mean risking your health as a result of CO poisoning.
The Tel Aviv researchers are now planning to investigate the effects of carbon monoxide on specific groups, including children and the elderly and those with medical conditions to see if small doses of CO can help protect against environmental noise and the stress impact of city life.
Exposure to CO can cause long term health problems and even brain damage, if survived.