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Carbon Monoxide (CO)

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Can Be Deadly

According to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), several hundred people die every year in the United States from CO poisoning, and many more go to hospital emergency rooms for treatment for CO poisoning. Many people with CO poisoning mistake their symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths.

What is carbon monoxide (CO) and how is it produced in the home?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. Appliances fueled with natural gas, liquified petroleum (LP gas), oil, kerosene, coal, or wood may produce CO. Burning charcoal produces CO. Running cars produce CO. CO is harmful when breathed because it displaces oxygen in the blood thus depriving vital organs.

What CO level is dangerous to your health?

Average levels in homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves are often 5 to 15 ppm and those near poorly adjusted stoves may be 30 ppm or higher. The health effects of CO depend on the level of CO and length of exposure, as well as each individual's age and health. The concentration of CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). Health effects from exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm are uncertain, but most people will not experience any symptoms. Some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable (headache, fatigue, nausea). As CO levels increase above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include: Headache, Fatigue, Shortness of breath, Nausea, Dizziness

What should you do if you are experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning?

GET FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY. Open windows and doors for more ventilation, turn off any combustion appliances, and leave the house. Call your fire department and report your symptoms. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning when you are operating fuel-burning appliances. Before turning your fuel-burning appliances back on, make sure a qualified serviceperson checks them for malfunction.

How Do I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

  • Have all your fuel-burning appliances, flues and chimneys inspected by a trained professional at least once a year. Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skills, and tools.
  • Don’t idle the car in a garage. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home even if the garage door to the outside is open.
  • Don’t use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
  • Don’t ever use a charcoal grill in inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Install a CO detector/alarm that meets the requirements of the current UL standard 2034 or the requirements of the IAS 6-96 standard. A carbon monoxide detector/alarm can provide added protection, but is no substitute for properly using and maintaining appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO detector/alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home.
  • Never ignore an alarming CO detector/alarm. GET FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY. Reset the CO detector, open windows and doors for more ventilation, turn off any combustion appliances, and leave the house. Remember that you cannot smell CO and, as symptoms of CO poisoning increase, you may become confused and less capable of making decisions that could save your life. Contact the fire department, and the gas company or heating contractor.

If you have any questions or need more information regarding CO in the home, please contact Stephen Maybee, P.E., Public Health Engineer at the Tompkins County Health Department, Division of Environmental Health: 607-274-6688.