Do not mistake dangerous carbon monoxide (CO) exposure symptoms with heatstroke or a hangover this summer
Technical Safety BC and Vancouver Coastal Health encourage campers, adventurers, and festival-goers to beware of this “silent killer” and to add a portable CO detector to their packing list
Vancouver, BC (August 9, 2023) - As British Columbians pack their camping supplies and get ready to venture out to campgrounds, lakes, cabins, and outdoor music festivals, Technical Safety BC and Vancouver Coastal Health are reminding people to be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) exposure and understand its symptoms.
Known as the “silent killer”, CO is a byproduct of many common fuel-burning appliances, including portable stoves/heaters, barbeques, firepits, kerosene lamps, gas-fired generators, and refrigerators.
While getting out to explore BC’s outdoor beauty is top of mind, many British Columbians continue to be unaware of the danger CO exposure can pose when appliances are used in enclosed spaces, such as tents or RVs. A 2021 survey conducted by Research Co. on behalf of Technical Safety BC found that a startling 23 per cent of British Columbians who have camped in the past two years do not see any risk in using a fuel-burning appliance inside their tent.
Simple measures such as taking the time to learn about CO awareness and bringing a portable CO detector for the RV or camper can make all the difference when looking to safely enjoy the outdoors with friends and family.
CO is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that interferes with the body’s ability to absorb oxygen. Prolonged exposure can cause CO poisoning, resulting in serious injury or death. Carbon-monoxide poisoning has caused 118 deaths in B.C. between 2012 and 2022. Due to the nature of CO symptoms, most victims don’t realize they have been exposed until it’s too late.
In fact, initial CO exposure symptoms can be mistaken for those of heatstroke or a hangover. With many British Columbians choosing to consume alcohol on these trips, this underscores the need for increased vigilance, and awareness of proper CO exposure prevention and intervention.
Initial symptoms of CO exposure include:
- as well as weakness and chest pain.
“We know that people are looking forward to their outdoor vacation plans this summer. With proper CO education and awareness, British Columbians can switch to vacation mode with the peace of mind that they have reduced their risk of CO exposure,” said Dean Schmitke, Senior Safety Officer, Incident Investigations.
Schmitke continued, “With 10 incidents and seven injuries reported last year alone, CO exposure continues to be a safety concern across our province. We are encouraging British Columbians to prioritize safety by adding a portable CO detector to their packing list for outdoor activities involving fuel-burning appliances.”
Each year, Vancouver General Hospital’s Hyperbaric Unit cares for approximately 20–40 patients with carbon monoxide poisoning. Many people may not even be aware that they require care.
“We all want to get out and enjoy the summer outdoors, but there are a couple of essentials to keep close by that will help avoid a trip to the emergency department,” said Dr. Bruce Campana, hyperbaric medicine physician with Vancouver Coastal Health. “Bring a small first aid kit and a battery operated CO detector. These items might save your life.”
Technical Safety BC’s top tips to prevent CO exposure while on summer vacation:
- Incorporate a CO safety check when planning your summer vacation: Review the signs of carbon monoxide exposure in humans and pets and assess what fuel-burning appliances are being brought to and/or are available at your destination. Ensure vacation rentals list a CO detector on-site and don’t be afraid to inquire if one isn’t listed.
- Pack a portable battery-operated CO detector for camping, music festivals, boating, or visiting vacation rental properties with no CO detector on-site.
- Only use fuel-burning appliances outdoors. Never bring these appliances inside enclosed spaces (tents, RVs, below a boat deck, etc.).
- Never block exhaust outlets. Inspect gas exhaust systems before turning the appliance on to ensure there’s no blockages or damage. When the machine is running, listen for any unusual noises and double-check that the exhaust is blowing downwind.
- Never ignore the sound of a carbon monoxide alarm. Turn your appliances off and get everyone outside, including pets. If you suspect CO poisoning, call 911 (or your local emergency number) and seek immediate medical attention.
Visit the Office of the Fire Commissioner, Technical Safety BC, and HealthLinkBC for more information on CO safety (including specific tips for RVs and boats), about the warning signs of carbon-monoxide gas in the home, the symptoms of carbon-monoxide gas poisoning, what to do if there is suspected exposure to carbon-monoxide gas and more.
About Technical Safety BC
Technical Safety BC is an independent, self-funded organization that oversees the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. In addition to issuing permits, licences, and certificates, it works with industry to reduce safety risks through assessment, education and outreach, enforcement, and research. For more information, visit technicalsafetybc.ca.
Vancouver Coastal Health is committed to delivering exceptional care to 1.25 million people, including the First Nations, Métis and Inuit in our region, within the traditional territories of the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai’xais, Lil’wat, Musqueam, N’Quatqua, Nuxalk, Samahquam, shíshálh, Skatin, Squamish, Tla’amin, Tsleil-Waututh, Wuikinuxv, and Xa’xtsa.
Technical Safety BC
Vancouver Coastal Health