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What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless toxic gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is produced when fuels do not burn completely. 

Exposure to carbon monoxide in concentrations above 100 ppm is dangerous to health. Because you cannot see it, smell it, or taste it, CO is also known as the “invisible killer.”

When you breathe in CO, it enters your bloodstream and binds with hemoglobin (the part of red blood cell that carries oxygen) so the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen. The lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail and die. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to brain damage and even death.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide? 

Inside your home, the most likely sources of carbon monoxide are heating and cooking appliances, which use fuels such as wood, coal, charcoal, oil, natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, and propane. If they are not properly maintained, are improperly ventilated, or malfunction, CO levels can rise quickly. 

Common Sources of CO in the home:

  • Gas water heaters and ovens
  • Kerosene space heaters
  • Propane heaters and stoves
  • Oil or gas burning furnaces
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Wood-burning fireplaces
  • Charcoal grills
  • Spray paint, solvents, degreasers, and paint removers
  • Running car or vehicle in attached garage

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

  • Mild Exposure: Sight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue (often described as “flu-like” symptoms)
  • Medium Exposure: Severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate
  • Extreme Exposure: Unconsciousness, convulsions, cardio-respiratory failure, death

Young children and household pets are typically the first affectedIf you or your family experience even mild symptoms of CO poisoning, seek medical treatment immediately.

How can I prevent CO poisoning in my home?

  1. Make sure your gas appliances, such as water heaters, furnaces, ovens, ranges, and cook tops, are vented properly.
  2. When choosing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency.
  3. Have your water heater, heating system, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances installed by a qualified technician and serviced every year.
  4. Install a battery-operated or battery back-up carbon monoxide alarm on each level of your home and check regularly to make sure it is functioning properly. Place the alarm where it will wake you up if it sounds. If the alarm sounds, move all family members and pets to fresh air immediately and call the fire department.