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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. Carbon monoxide is also called CO.

Where is carbon monoxide found?

Carbon monoxide 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 carbon monoxide poisoning?

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

How does carbon monoxide poisoning work?

Red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with carbon monoxide. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death.

Who is at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning?

All people and animals are at risk for carbon monoxide 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, and more than 2,000 commit suicide by intentionally poisoning themselves.

How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from my home appliances?

  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters (catalytic) indoors. Although these heaters don't have a flame, they burn gas and can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator's cooling unit have an expert service it. An odor from the cooling unit of your gas refrigerator can mean you have a defect in the cooling unit. It could also be giving off carbon monoxide .
  • When purchasing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as the American Gas Association or Underwriters' Laboratories.
  • Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.

How do I vent my gas appliances properly?

  • All gas appliances must be vented so that carbon monoxide will not build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
  • Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home or cabin.
  • Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make carbon monoxide build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Horizontal vent pipes to fuel appliances should not be perfectly level. Indoor vent pipes should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors. This helps prevent carbon monoxide or other gases from leaking if the joints or pipes aren't fitted tightly.

How can I heat my house safely or cook when the power is out?

  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of carbon monoxide inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never use a charcoal grill or a barbecue grill indoors. Using a grill indoors will cause a build up of carbon monoxide inside your home, cabin, or camper unless you use it inside a vented fireplace.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal — red, gray, black, or white — gives off carbon monoxide .
  • Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window, door, or vent.

How can I avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from my vehicle?

  • Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of my car every year. A small leak in your car's exhaust system can lead to a build up of carbon monoxide inside the car.
  • Never run a car or truck in the garage with the garage door shut. carbon monoxide can build up quickly while your car or truck is running in a closed garage. Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house and always open the door to any garage to let in fresh air when running a car or truck inside the garage.
  • If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate, you also need to open vents or windows to make sure air is moving through your car. If only the tailgate is open carbon monoxide from the exhaust will be pulled into the car.

Source: Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention

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