Carbon Monoxide

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO as it is commonly referred to as,  is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body.  It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels.

What are major sources of CO?

CO can come from many different sources and is the result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas, and fuel oil.  Some of these sources are gas-fire appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fire places, tobacco products and motor vehicles. Problems can come from improper installation, maintenance, or inadequate ventilation.  Since these things are all around us, it puts everyone at risk, though unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people
with heart or lung disease are the most sensitive.

What are the health effects?

Carbon monoxide interferes with the distribution of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. Depending on the amount inhaled, this gas can impede coordination, worsen cardiovascular conditions, and produce fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and dizziness. Very high levels can cause death.

The symptoms are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning. Fetuses, infants, elderly, and people with heart and respiratory illnesses are particularly at high risk for the adverse health effects of carbon monoxide.

What can be done to prevent CO poisoning?

  • Ensure that appliances are properly adjusted and working to manufacturers’ instructions and local building codes.  Most appliances should be installed by professionals. Have the heating system (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • 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 proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO.  Install a CO detector/alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Make sure the detector cannot be covered up by furniture or draperies.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Never use appliances, such as ovens, gas ranges or dryers to heat your home.
  • Do not burn charcoal inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle, or camper.
  • Make sure stoves and heaters are vented to the outside and that exhaust systems do not leak.
  • Do not use unvented gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces.
  • Never leave a car or lawn mower engine running in a shed or garage, or in any enclosed space, even if the shed or garage door is open.
  • Make sure your furnace has adequate intake of outside air.

What CO level is dangerous to your health?

The health effects of CO depend on the level of CO and length of exposure, as well as each individual’s health condition. 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. This chart shows different levels of concentration and what might occur at that level:

of CO in air
time and toxic developed
50 parts per million
Safety level as specified by the Health and Safety Executive
200 PPM Slight headache within 2-3 hours
400 PPM Frontal headache within 1-2 hours, becoming widespread in 3 hours
800 PPM Dizziness, nausea, convulsions within 45 minutes, insensible in 2 hours

What should you do if you suspect CO poisoning?

Don’t ignore symptoms, especially if more than one person is feeling them. If you think you are suffering from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, you should:

  • Get fresh air immediately.
  • Go to an emergency room. Be sure to tell the physician that you suspect
    CO poisoning.
  • Be prepared to answer the following questions:

Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms?

Did everyone’s symptoms appear about the same time?

Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?

Has anyone inspected your appliances lately?

Are you certain they are working properly?

What should you do if you CO alarm activates?

CO alarms are set to activate when they detect a level of CO build-up at which a normal, healthy adult would begin to feel symptoms.  Therefore, if no one feels sick when the alarm activates, that does not mean that there is no CO present.  If your alarm activates, call 911 immediately.  The Thomas Township Fire Department (or your local fire department if you do not live in Thomas Township) will be dispatched to check your CO levels and to ventilate the house with fans if need be.  If you or someone at the house is sick, please make sure you tell the 911 operator so they can dispatch an ambulance as well.  In all cases following a CO alarm activation, have a qualified professional check your house as soon as possible.

Links to more information about Carbon Monoxide:

CO Headquarters
American Lung Association
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Home Safe
Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Carbon Monoxide Kills Campaign