Carbon Monoxide is a harmful, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas which is emitted by all fuel-burning appliances and vehicles in and around the home.
After being inhaled, carbon monoxide is absorbed by the oxygen-carrying portion of your blood 240 times more quickly than oxygen. It replaces the oxygen in your blood, depriving your organs and cells of the life-giving oxygen they need to function. It also prevents the release of oxygen into your blood stream. This one-two fatal punch causes asphyxiation and death. Since children are smaller and have a faster metabolism than adults, they take in carbon monoxide faster than we do. The elderly are also more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.
It can be difficult to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a great imitator of the flu. A mild exposure will cause a slight headache, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Medium exposure to carbon monoxide will cause a severe headache, drowsiness, confusion, and a fast heart rate. Extreme exposures to carbon monoxide lead to unconsciousness, convulsions, and heart and lung failure.
Concentration of CO in air vs. symptoms
(ppm = parts-per-million, one part-per-million can be related to 1 minute in two years)
- 100 ppm no symptoms
- 200 ppm mild headache
- 400 ppm headache, after 1 or 2 hours
- 800 ppm headache, after 45 minutes nausea, collapse with unconsciousness after one hour
- 1000 ppm unconsciousness after one hour
- 1600 ppm headache and dizziness after 20 minutes
- 3200 ppm headache, nausea after 5 to 10 minutes with unconsciousness after 30 minutes
- 6400 ppm headache and dizziness after 1 or 2 minutes with unconsciousness after 10 to 15 minutes.
- 12,800 ppm immediate unconsciousness, death after 4 minutes
All combustion devices and all fuel burning appliances generate carbon monoxide. Well-maintained and properly adjusted appliances emit less carbon monoxide than those which aren't working correctly. However, over a period of time, even properly operating appliances can produce lethal doses of carbon monoxide. Therefore, it is essential that your home is properly ventilated. Clean chimneys and flues will help ensure proper ventilation.
Unvented fueled portable heaters can also be dangerous. They emit carbon monoxide, which displaces the oxygen in your home. They are illegal in living areas.
If your home has an attached garage, do not leave your car running with the outside garage door closed, because carbon monoxide can enter your home even through the inside garage door is closed.
The best defense against carbon monoxide is to make sure your home has a good exchange of fresh air, that chimneys and flues are clear, and that all appliances are well-maintained and properly adjusted. Additionally, a properly operating carbon monoxide detector or detectors should be located in the living and sleeping areas of your home.