Carbon Monoxide

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a poisonous gas that cannot be seen or smelled and can kill a person in minutes. Carbon monoxide can quickly build up to unsafe levels in enclosed or semi-enclosed areas.

What are some common sources of carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is produced by incomplete combustion from cars and trucks, small gasoline power equipment like weed trimmers and chain saws, boat engines, gas and camp stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges, ovens, or furnaces. Tobacco smoke is a significant source of carbon monoxide in homes with smokers.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Common initial symptoms are headache, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, confusion, and nausea. Low-level carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are like other illnesses, such as the flu. The following could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning:

Breathing in high levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death. People who are sleeping can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever knowing they are being exposed to the gas.

Who is at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning?

All people and animals are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Certain groups, such as unborn babies, infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems, are more easily affected by carbon monoxide poisoning.

What should be done if you suspect someone has carbon monoxide poisoning?

Should I install a carbon monoxide alarm?

Yes, these detectors are similar to smoke alarms and can warn you when carbon monoxide levels become unsafe. If the alarm goes off, evacuate the building and call 911. Follow the carbon monoxide detector instructions for routine maintenance, including regular replacement of batteries. If the carbon monoxide detector is wired to the electrical supply, make sure it has back-up batteries for when the electricity is off.

Washington State law (RCW 19.27.530) requires carbon monoxide alarms to be installed in new residences. As of January 1, 2013, carbon monoxide alarms are required in existing apartments, condominiums, hotels, motels, and single-family residences, with some exceptions. Owner-occupied single-family residences, legally occupied before July 26, 2009, are not required to have carbon monoxide alarms until they are sold. For more information on the carbon monoxide alarm requirements, contact your local building code official or see the State Building Code Council's Carbon Monoxide Alarm page.

Motor homes and boats should also have carbon monoxide alarms.

How do I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning during a power outage?

Generator Safety

Gas powered generators should be at least 20 feet away from buildings. Even at 20 feet away, air flow patterns could still blow carbon monoxide into homes through attic vents, windows, or doors, so it's very important to have a working carbon monoxide detector inside the home. There are now models of generators with features to help reduce the risk of the CO poisoning. Look for generators with technology that reduce CO exhaust emissions or have an automatic shutoff when it senses certain concentrations of CO around the generator. Get tips on using a generator during a power outage.

How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from vehicles and other equipment?

How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from my home appliances?

More Resources

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, CDC - Educational materials in various formats and languages, prevention and clinical guidance, and research studies.

Carbon Monoxide Data, Washington Tracking Network - Search exposure indicators to see how many people are affected by carbon monoxide exposure over a period of time.

Power Outage: Emergency Preparedness - Carbon monoxide, food, and drinking water power outage fact sheets.

Carbon Monoxide Alarm Laws, State Building Code Council - January 1, 2013 residential carbon monoxide alarm requirements and other related codes.


Content Source: Indoor Air Quality Program