Carbon Monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas. It claims many lives every year. Most victims to carbon monoxide poisoning die in their sleep. You need to take steps to protect your families from this silent killer. Carbon monoxide kills quickly and silently. Over 500 deaths in the United States are credited to CO per year. Since CO is a silent killer, having a CO detector in your home is important. When buying a CO detector, look for the UL mark with the adjacent phrase "Residential Carbon Monoxide Detector."

Where is carbon monoxide found?

CO doesn't single out. If you have a fuelburning appliance, you are a potential victim. Examples are gas furnaces, ovens, ranges, water, and portable heaters. Other factors are auto exhaust fumes, improperly vented fireplaces, the use of cooking appliances for heat, and the use of charcoal inside the home.

How does carbon monoxide affect the human body?

CO suffocates its victims by reducing the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. If you continue to inhale CO, you face the risk of breathing difficulty, cardiac trauma, brain damage, coma, and death.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

You may have flu-like symptoms including nausea, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, confusion, and breathing difficulty. Due to increased blood pressure, a victim's skin may take on a pink or red cast. It affects the elderly, the fetus, and persons with cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases due to elevated CO levels.

How do you know if there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home?

Risks to look for include:

  • Streaks of carbon around the service door of gas-burning appliances.
  • No draft in your chimney.
  • Excessive rusting on flue pipes or appliance jackets. moisture collecting on the windows and walls of furnace rooms.
  • Fallen soot from the fireplace; small amounts of water leaking from the base of the chimney, vent, or flue pipe.
  • Damaged and discolored bricks at the top of the chimney.
  • Other colors than blue pilot flames in fuel-burning appliances (normal is blue).

Car exhaust is another source of CO. Make sure the door between the house and garage is closed while car engines are running.

Why is there an increase in CO poisonings?

Our energy-efficient homes provide an excellent space for CO buildup. CO poisoning is more likely to occur when there is no place for the toxic gas to vent and disperse.

How do CO detectors need to maintain?

  • If the unit is a plug-in, test it monthly; a battery-powered detector should have the batteries changed at least once a year.
  • Clean regularly as the owner's manual suggests.
  • Annually, have your fuel-burning appliance checked by a qualified service technician.
  • Install UL listed CO detectors outside sleeping rooms and near all fuel-burning appliances.

Written by Susan Taylor, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Matteson Extension Center. Adapted from Pat Hildebrand, Extension Educator, Edited by Katherine J. Reuter, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Counryside Extension Center

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