Carbon Monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas.  Carbon monoxide is produced when fuel such as natural gas, propane, gasoline, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned.  This gas is produced from both human-made and natural sources. Possible sources of carbon monoxide include heating systems, stoves, portable generators, fireplaces, furnaces, automobile exhaust, gasoline engines, and boats.

Each year, nearly 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning (not linked to fires), and more than 4,000 are hospitalized in the United States. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common cause of poisoning deaths in the United States.

How might I be exposed to carbon monoxide?

Exposure to carbon monoxide can occur by breathing

  • exhaust from broken or improperly vented stoves, fireplaces, furnaces, heating systems, and generators
  • exhaust from fuel-powered equipment such as lawn mowers, snow blowers, forklifts, and chain saws, (especially when used in confined areas)
  • exhaust from recreational watercraft, boats, and automobiles
  • tobacco smoke

What are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

People can be exposed to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide and not have any symptoms. If people do have symptoms, common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, difficulty breathing, weakness, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, and fatigue. Exposure to high levels or over a long period of time can cause suffocation, loss of consciousness, brain damage, or death.  People who are more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning include the elderly, infants, children, smokers, and those with anemia, heart, or breathing problems.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide-oximeters are medical devices that can estimate how much carbon monoxide is in the blood.

How can I reduce exposure to carbon monoxide in my home and car?

  • Install battery-powered carbon monoxide alarms and smoke detectors.  If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, immediately get to fresh air.
  • Never use portable generators inside the home. Portable generators should be run only when at least 20 feet from the house.
  • Schedule annual maintenance of heating systems and fuel-burning appliances to ensure proper ventilation.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan over gas stoves. The fan must exhaust to the outside of the building.
  • Never use your gas oven to heat your home.
  • Never burn fuels indoors except in stoves or furnaces that are designed for indoor use and properly installed.
  • Do not let your car run idle in the garage.
  • Do not set up a grill inside your garage, even if the garage door is up.
  • Check the exhaust system of your car each year.
  • Consult an expert if you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator.


Updated 2023