By James T. Young
We don’t think about carbon monoxide poisoning as a hazard in the summer, but it is. One reason is that the practice of “cooking out” in the summer can paradoxically, become “cooking in.” Imagine this scenario. You are having a lovely Fourth of July afternoon with your children, grandchildren or friends in the backyard of your home. For weeks you’ve been promising everyone a fantastic meal, built around your “Triple Threat Burgers, beef or vegetarian, guaranteed to please.” The soaked wood chips are on the grill. The charcoal briquettes have been heated to a glowing red and the burgers have been placed on the grill, when….suddenly….it pours down rain.
Everyone rushes into the garage. Two guys quickly whisk the grill away from the storm and into the garage. Everyone claps and cheers because the famous burgers have been saved. But no one realizes that a new danger has been created: the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from burning charcoal briquettes in an enclosed space.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. These properties make it difficult for a person to detect when it is present. CO is easily absorbed through the lungs as we inhale. When CO is inhaled it enters the bloodstream and blocks oxygen from being absorbed into the body. CO poisoning can lead to damaged tissue and can result in death. In fact, carbon monoxide is the most common cause of poisoning death in the United States. It is also the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries.
The risk of CO poisoning is of special concern to minorities. According one study, CO poisoning in the United States is more prevalent among blacks and “Hispanic whites,” than among the non-Hispanic white population. Most of the poisoning was due to “indoor burning” of charcoal briquettes. It is important to realize that charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide the entire time that they are hot. Do not use charcoal briquettes if you are going to grill inside an enclosed area.
Read the fact sheet on preventing carbon monoxide poisoning
About the author: James T. Young was a chemist at NIH for thirteen years before ending up a program analyst in the Public Health Service his last twelve years of government service. He has enjoyed being a SEE employee since 1995.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.