General Safety: Carbon Monoxide PoisoningDid you know carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned?
You can't see or smell carbon monoxide, but at high levels it can kill a person in minutes.
If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from CO poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel-burning appliances.
Even more die from CO produced by idling cars. Fetuses, infants, elderly people, and people with anemia or with a history of heart or respiratory disease can be especially susceptible. Be safe, follow the CO prevention tips listed below.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms
Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause. High levels cause unconsciousness, make it difficult to arouse from sleep or death.
What to do if you experience symptoms that you think could be from carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Leave the house immediately and call 911.
- Tell the emergency responders you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
- Get into fresh air as soon as possible.
Prepare to answer the following for 911 dispatcher:
- Do your symptoms occur only in the house?
- Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return?
- Does anyone else in the house have 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?
- Have appliances been installed, repaired, serviced or modified recently?
Prevention is the key!
- Install and maintain a CO detector in your home if you use a fireplace, natural gas or other fuel burning appliances.
- Have your fuel burning appliances inspected by a qualified technician at the beginning of every heating season.
- Make certain that the flues and chimneys are connected, in good condition, and not blocked.
- Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside whenever possible, have them properly installed, and maintain them according to manufacturers' instructions.
- Read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. If you cannot avoid using an unvented gas or kerosene space heater, carefully follow the cautions that come with the device. Use the proper fuel and keep doors to the rest of the house open. Crack a window to ensure enough air for proper combustion.
- DON'T idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
- DON'T use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
- DON'T ever use a charcoal grill in the garage, indoors, even in a fireplace.
- DON'T sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
- DON'T use any gasoline-powered engines in enclosed spaces.
- DON'T use kerosene or propane heaters indoors without proper ventilation and be sure that the device is UL approved for indoor use.
- DON'T ignore symptoms of CO poisoning, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing.
Call or visit the website's of EPA's Indoor Air Quality INFO Clearinghouse (1-800-438-4318).
Consumer Product Safety Commission (1-800-638-2772) for more information on how to reduce your risks from carbon monoxide.