Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas which is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned.
If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result. CO poisoning is the leading cause of non-drug poisoning deaths every year in the United States.
Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill in minutes before you are aware it is in your home. That’s why carbon monoxide detectors should be placed on each floor of your house. Check the batteries regularly to ensure the detectors are working properly.
If the detector sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.
Below is more information on carbon monoxide, how to reduce your exposure risks, and other helpful resources.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide
The causes of carbon monoxide poisoning are malfunctioning gas stoves and furnaces, idling vehicles in attached garages, and kerosene and gas space heaters.
Other sources of carbon monoxide can include:
- Leaking chimneys and furnaces
- Back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, gas generators, wood stoves, and fireplaces
- Use of indoor charcoal grills
- Auto, truck, or bus exhaust from nearby roads or parking areas
- Tobacco smoke
Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed on each floor of your house. Check the batteries regularly to ensure the detectors are working properly.
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. But CO can be fatal at high concentrations.
Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause.
If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:
- Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
- Go to an Emergency Room and and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
Prevent CO Poisoning
Follow these steps to keep your family safe from the dangers of CO poisoning:
- Keep gas appliances properly adjusted. You may also need to have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly and that there is nothing blocking the fumes from being vented out of the house.
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up your central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
- Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one. Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters. Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves. Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
- Do not idle the car inside the garage.
- Don’t use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in these areas and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off. ONLY use outdoors and far from open windows, doors and vents.
- Use additional ventilation as a temporary measure when high levels of CO are expected for short periods of time.
- Install battery-operated or batter-back up CO detectors in the home.
Below are links to videos and publications related to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer (CTDPH)
El Monoxido de Carbono (CTDPH)
- Carbon Monoxide (CDC)
- When the Power Goes Out, Keep Your Generator Outside (CDC)
- Avoiding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During a Power Outage (CDC)
- CO Poisoning Prevention Toolkit (CDC)
- Carbon Monoxide (EPA)
- Carbon Monoxide [Burmese] (DOH)
- Carbon Monoxide Detectors (About.com)