Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, deadly gas. It can kill you before you know it because you can’t see it, taste it or smell it. At lower levels of exposure, it can cause health problems. Some people may be more vulnerable to CO poisoning such as fetuses, infants, children, senior citizens and those with heart or lung problems. When CO is breathed in by an individual, it accumulates in the blood and forms a toxic compound known as carboxyhemoglobin (COHb). Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the bloodstream to cells and tissues. Carbon monoxide attaches itself to hemoglobin and displaces the oxygen that the body organs need.

Carboxyhemoglobin can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability. Later stages of CO poisoning can cause vomiting, loss of consciousness and eventually brain damage or death.

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion of fossil fuels. Fumes from automobiles contain high levels of CO. Appliances such as furnaces, space heaters, clothes dryers, ranges, ovens, water heaters, charcoal grills, fireplaces and wood burning stoves produce CO. Carbon monoxide usually is vented to the outside if appliances function correctly and the home is vented properly. Problems occur when furnace heat exchanger crack or vents and chimneys become blocked. Insulation sometimes can trap CO in the home.

Safety tips

  • CO alarms should be installed in a central location outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home and in other locations where required by applicable laws, codes or standards. For the best protection, interconnect all CO alarms throughout the home. When one sounds, they all sound.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for placement and mounting height.
  • Choose a CO alarm that has the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Test CO alarms at least once a month; replace them according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If the audible trouble signal sounds, check for low batteries. If the battery is low, replace it. If it still sounds, call the fire department.
  • If the CO alarm sounds, immediately move to a fresh air location outdoors. Try to close doors and windows as you exit, if safe to do so. Call 9-1-1 for help from a fresh air location and stay there until emergency personnel arrive.
  • If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open. Make sure the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow.
  • During and after a snowstorm, make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove, and fireplace are clear of snow build-up.
  • A generator should be used in a well-ventilated location outdoors away from windows, doors and vent openings.
  • Gas or charcoal grills can produce CO — only use outside.