Let me tell you a true story.

Story Time With Bethany

Bethany is a delivery driver, running a dedicated route that requires her to spend a couple of nights a week in her sleeper. She recently shared her story and gave me permission to share it with you. 

Bethany had taken her truck in for a PM, and while it was there asked them to check for an exhaust leak. She had been smelling exhaust in her bunk, while the truck was going through a regen. The shop checked for exhaust leaks, even allegedly performing a pressure check, and assured her all was good.

Over the course of the next couple weeks, she began to have a problem staying awake even though she was getting plenty of sleep. She was also getting almost daily headaches, which was not typical for her. Then one night she woke up knowing 2 things: 1) She was in her bunk, even though she didn’t know where she had parked, and 2) She was about to throw up. 

As she staggered to the cab, a few more things became clear. She realized she was in Albuquerque at the Flying J and her truck was full of smoke. She also realized her truck was in the middle of a regen. As she stumbled out of the cab, Bethany shut off her engine. As soon as she got into the fresh air, her nausea almost immediately went away, but she still had, in her words, “a wicked headache”. 

She climbed back into the truck, opened up the windows, and let the smoke clear out. She left the truck off for the rest of the night and got hotels for the rest of her route. Later, when a different shop was checking out her truck, they found an exhaust leak directly under where her pillow laid. 

Her point to this story: “Don’t die in the truck! If you don’t feel right about something, stomp your feet until it gets handled, because whatever it is, it's not worth dying in a truck over”. 

Great Advice Bethany!

The Invisible Killer

“Carbon Monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless but dangerous gas. It’s produced when fuel such as gasoline, oil, kerosene, natural gas, wood, or charcoal are burned.” (American Lung Association, 2022). Diesel engines also create carbon monoxide, but at lower levels. That doesn’t mean that it can’t have negative effects on us, though. High levels can also be detected along roadways where vehicles travel. If you jog along roadways, or in urban areas, you may be exposing yourself to higher levels of carbon monoxide. 

What Are The Effects?

When we inhale carbon monoxide (CO) it attaches to the hemoglobin in the red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body, so when CO attaches to the hemoglobin, it prevents the oxygen from doing its thing. This bond between the hemoglobin and CO creates carboxyhemoglobin. The bond is so strong that the hemoglobin will not release the CO as easily as it does oxygen. Until the CO dissipates, oxygen can not attach to the hemoglobin. This can, and will, create health problems. “Some of the symptoms of low-level CO exposure can be:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

These symptoms can be very similar to flu or food poisoning. If these persist, CO may be building up in your body. If you leave a building, or vehicle, and the symptoms subside, CO accumulation should be considered. Higher levels of CO exposure can cause:

  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Impaired vision
  • Impaired coordination
  • Disorientation” 

(American Lung Association, 2022)

How to Detect CO

Please remember: pay attention to what your body tells you. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention. Since CO is tasteless and odorless, the only way to tell if you’re encountering high levels of CO is by a CO detector. These are readily available at department and hardware stores. Make sure to place these detectors close to sleeping areas. However, these detectors only alert when high levels of CO are present. Long-term exposure to low levels can be just as hazardous.

One way to detect these lower levels would be a CO Meter or gauge. These are a little more costly, but can let you know of higher levels of CO than are healthy. Fifty parts per million, concentrated as an 8-hour average, is generally accepted as safe. 

Getting fresh air is the quickest way to fight CO exposure. CO has a half-life of four hours, which means that no matter the level of exposure, it will be half as strong in 4 hours. You may feel some immediate relief from the symptoms like Bethany did, but the CO will still take time to dissipate from your system.

Carbon Monoxide. American Lung Association. (2022, August 22). Retrieved September 8, 2022, from https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/carbon-monoxide

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Clark W Reed

Clark Reed of Roscoe, Illinois is an OTR company driver and trainer for Nussbaum Transportation based out of Hudson, Illinois. He has been driving since 2005 and has driven van, reefer, and tanker. He currently hauls dry van to all lower 48 states. Clark is passionate about MPGs and how driver habits influence them. The lifetime average of his 2018 Cascadia is 9.75 mpg, with eyes on 10. Clark, along with Henry Albert, was one of the seven drivers in 2017's "Run on Less" by NACFE, a road show, demonstrating what fuel efficiency can be obtained with existing technologies.

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