Carbon Monoxide
An Invisible Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that interferes with the delivery of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body produced by incomplete combustion of fuels.

Impossible to see, taste or smell, it poisoning claims more than 500 lives and sends another 15,200 people to hospital emergency rooms each year in the United States alone.

Co is produced as a result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas, and fuel oil.

Through improper installation, maintenance and inadequate ventilation CO can be emitted by combustion sources such as unvented kerosene and gas heaters, furnaces, wood stoves, gas stoves, fireplaces and gas water heaters, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and tobacco smoke.


Depending on the amount inhaled, carbon monoxide can impede coordination, worsen cardiovascular conditions, and produce fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and dizziness. Very high levels can cause death.

Co symptoms are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning with fetuses, infants, elderly, and people with heart and respiratory illnesses at greater risk.

Some common steps to reduce CO exposure include:

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted
  • Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented unit.
  • Use the proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves for the area that are certified to meet EPA emission standards and make sure that doors on all wood stoves fit and close tightly.
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually.
  • Do not idle the car inside the garage.


Don't ignore carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, especially if more than one person is feeling ill.

  • Get fresh air immediately
  • Open doors and windows
  • Turn off combustion appliances and leave the house
  • Call your local emergency number
  • do not re-enter the home until checked by the fire department, local gas company or other professional qualified to check CO levels and leaks.
  • Call a professional to make needed repairs


Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed CO alarm with an audible warning signal neat the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms.

These alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average healthy adult would experience symptoms.

It is possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean CO is not present.

What to do if your CO alarm activates:

  • Make sure it is the CO detector and not the smoke alarm
  • Check to see if any family member is experiencing symptoms
  • If they are, get them out of the house and to medical attention
  • If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air and turn off all potential sources of CO.
  • Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys for operational problems

Remember, carbon monoxide (co) detectors can be used as a backup but not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. Proper care and good old fashion common sense can help keep you and your family safe from CO poisoning.

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