Healthy Homes: Carbon Monoxide
You cannot see, taste, feel, or smell carbon monoxide (CO); however, this deadly gas can make you very sick or even kill you. Over 5,000 people in the United States die every year after breathing too much CO. The signs of CO poisoning seem like the flu. Many people do not even know that they have been breathing CO. People who survive may suffer brain damage, lose their sight or hearing, or have heart problems. It is a major threat to your family's health. The good news is that CO poisoning can be prevented.
There can be so much CO in a burning building that breathing smoke for as little as one minute can kill you. Lower levels, like smoking, do not kill right away. They can cause many other health problems though. Children, unborn babies, people with asthma, older adults, or people with heart or lung problems are more likely to get hurt from breathing CO.
Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?
Fuel-burning appliances use gas, oil, or wood to produce heat. If they are not working right, they can make CO. Most gas appliances that have been put in and taken care of properly are safe and make very little CO. Electric appliances do not burn fuel and make no CO. Common sources of CO include:
- Gas and oil furnaces
- Water heaters
- Wood-burning fireplaces and stoves
- Gas appliances: ovens, stoves, or dryers
- Gas and kerosene space heaters
- Gas and charcoal grills
- Cars, trucks, campers, tractors, and other vehicles
- Gasoline and liquide propane-powered small equipment: lawn mowers, snow blowers, chainsaws, pressure washers, and electric generators
- Recreational vehicles: boat motors, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), ski-boats, and generators in campers and houseboats
- Tobacco smoke
- House fires
- Blocked chimneys and flues
Breathing in low levels of CO can damage the brain, heart, or other body parts. At high levels, the brain is so short of oxygen that you cannot think clearly. You lose control of your muscles and may be unable to move to safety. High-level CO poisoning can cause loss of consciousness, coma and death.
What are the Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
People often think CO poisoning is the flu. That's because it can feel like the flu. Signs of low-level CO poisoning may include:
- Tightness in the chest
- Trouble breathing
Carbon Monoxide Teacher's Guide (Word)
Carbon Monoxide (PowerPoint: 156 KB)
Carbon Monoxide Pre-test (Word: 76 KB)
Carbon Monoxide Post-test (Word: 76 KB)