Carbon Monoxide

It's the leading cause of poisoning deaths in America.


What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is colorless, odorless deadly gas. Because you cannot see, taste, or smell it, carbon monoxide can kill you before you even know it is there.

Who is at Risk?

Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Experts believe, however, that individuals with greater oxygen requirements such as unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens, and people with coronary or respiratory problems are at greater risk.

Why is it dangerous?

The great danger of carbon monoxide is its attraction to hemoglobin in the bloodstream. CO is breathed in through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin in the blood, displacing the oxygen cells needed to function. When CO is present in the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood, forming a toxic compound known as carboxyhemoglobin (COHg).

Where does it come from?

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion, present whenever fuel is burned. It is produced by common home appliances, such as gas or oil furnaces, refrigerators or clothes dryers, water heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, gas ranges, wood burning stoves, and space heaters. Fumes from automobiles also contain carbon monoxide and can enter a home through walls or doorways if a car is left running in an attached garage.

All of these sources can contribute to a CO problem in the home. If a home is vented properly and is free from appliance malfunctions, air pressure fluctuations or airway blockages, carbon monoxide will most likely be safely vented to the outside. But in today's energy-efficient homes this is frequently not the case. Insulation meant to keep warm air in during winter months can trap CO-polluted air in a home year-round. Furnace heat exchangers can crack, vents can become blocked, inadequate air supply for combustion appliances can cause conditions known as back-drafting or reverse stacking, which force contaminated air back into the home.

Common Sources of CO:

  • Blocked chimney opening
  • Gas clothes dryer
  • Clogged chimney
  • Operating BBQ grill in enclosed area
  • Portable heaters
  • Corroded or disconnected water
  • Gas or wood burning fireplace heater vent pipe
  • Leaking chimney pipe or flue
  • Cracked heat exchanger
  • Improperly installed gas range or cook-top vent

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How do I protect my family?

The consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area. A second detector near the homes heat source provides extra protection. Choose an Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible alarm. First Alert, the leading name in home safety, manufactures a UL listed, battery operated carbon monoxide detector that continues to protect even in the event of a power outage. The first Alert model uses biomimetic technology, which simulates the body's response to CO and will not respond to other gases. A hard-wired AC model with battery backup is also available.

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