What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. Carbon monoxide is produced by burning fuel. Therefore, any fuel-burning appliance in your home is a potential CO source. When cooking or heating appliances are kept in good working order, they produce little CO. Improperly operating appliances can produce fatal CO concentrations in your home.
Where is CO found?
CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by cars and trucks, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO ingestion can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
of CO in air
Inhalation Times and Toxic Symptoms
|1-3 ppm||Amount of CO typically found in our indoor environment|
|9 ppm||Maximum recommended concentration for short-term exposure in a living area|
|10-15 ppm||Common concentration found with cigarette smoking in close quarters|
Maximum allowable work-place exposure during any 8-hour period,
|100 ppm||After 15 minutes at this concentration U.L. approved CO alarms will activate|
|200 ppm*||Maximum allowable concentration at any time, according to OSHA
Slight headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea after 2-3 hours exposure
Maximum allowable in flue gas according to EPA & AGA
|800 ppm||Dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes, unconsciousness within
2 hours, death within 2-3 hours
|1600 ppm||Headache, dizziness and nausea within 15 minutes, death within 1 hour|
|3200 ppm||Headache, dizziness and nausea within 10 minutes, death within 30 minutes.|
|6400 ppm||Headache, dizziness and nausea within 1-2 minutes, death within 10-15 minutes.|
|12,800 ppm||Death within 1-3 minutes|
* At this concentration and higher, the symptoms and effects of exposure can vary depending on size, age, sex and health. Since CO is an accumulative and direct reacting toxin, it can be dangerous even at low levels over a longer period of time.
How does CO poisoning work?
When CO is introduced to the bloodstream through the lungs, it is accepted in place of oxygen at a rate of 300:1 and literally suffocates its victim. When there is a lot of CO in the air, oxygen in the blood is replaced with CO, resulting in damaged tissue or even death.
Who is at risk from CO poisoning?
All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects. Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning.
What should you do?
Proper installation, operation, and maintenance of fuel-burning appliances in the home is the most important factor in reducing the risk of CO poisoning. Make sure appliances are installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions and the local codes. Most appliances should be installed by professionals.
- Always follow the appliance manufacturer’s directions for safe operation.
- Have the heating system (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
- Examine vents and chimneys regularly for improper connections, visible cracks, rust or stains.
- Look for problems that could indicate improper appliance operations: Decreased hot water supply, furnace unable to heat house or runs continuously, sooting, especially on appliances and vents, an unfamiliar or burning odor or increased moisture inside of windows
- Operate portable generators outdoors and away from open doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
In addition, install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home. Every home should have a CO alarm in the hallway near the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area. The CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the most recent UL, IAS, or CSA standard for CO alarms. Test your CO alarms frequently and replace dead batteries. A CO alarm can provide added protection, but is no substitute for proper installation, use and upkeep of appliances that are potential CO sources.