Forklifts Source of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Dec. 23, 1999
CDC report says CO poisoning with indoor combustion sources continues to be a problem in the United States.

While carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is usually associated with cars or faulty furnaces, warehouse workers may be at risk as well.

Forklifts used in manufacturing plants may spew out the deadly, odorless gas, possibly poisoning workers in poorly ventilated warehouses or adjoining offices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What's more, the symptoms of CO poisoning -- headaches, nausea and dizziness -- often masquerade as other illnesses and may be misdiagnosed. CO is a colorless, odorless gas released as a byproduct of incomplete fuel combustion.

In one case in 1998, 75 workers at a plastic manufacturing plant in Iowa suffered from headaches, dizziness and weakness.

Of the 10 who went to emergency rooms for treatment, many were misdiagnosed -- some with migraines, others considered to have had a fainting episode.

The cause of the outbreak? High levels of CO emitted by forklifts, compounded by a malfunction in an exhaust fan were found to be the culprit.

People exposed to CO can be treated in a hyperbaric chamber if their illness is recognized, according to the CDC report.

"CO poisoning associated with indoor combustion sources has long been recognized but continues to be a problem in the United States," according to the report. "The events described in this report illustrate factors that result in failure to adequately prevent CO poisoning and to promptly recognize such incidents when they occur."

The report suggested that businesses improve forklift maintenance and install monitoring equipment in order to avoid such incidents.

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