Carbon Monoxide – The Invisible Danger-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Carbon Monoxide – The Invisible Danger

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless toxic gas. It can be generated from several sources such as ovens, heating systems, generators, wood burning stoves, fireplaces, charcoal grills and motor vehicles.

Low levels of exposure to CO could cause mild effects that can be mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, chest pain, confusion and disorientation. These effects can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the level of exposure. Smoking tobacco increases the amount of CO in your blood. A person who smokes a pack of cigarettes per day will typically have a CO level of about 20 parts per million. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses.  

Each year in the Unites States CO poisoning claims 400 lives and sends another 20,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.   There are some simple steps that you can take to prevent yourself and your family from exposure to potentially lethal CO fumes.

  • Have your home's heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home. It can cause a build-up of CO in your home.
  • When purchasing gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as the American Gas Assn. or Underwriters Laboratory.
  • Never use a charcoal grill/hibachi in your home or garage.
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage, or near a window, door or vent.
  • Never keep a car running in your garage. Even if the garage door is open normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to prevent a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide.
  • When purchasing an existing home have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating systems in addition to the sealed space between the garage and the house.
  • Keep snow from accumulating where your gas fired appliances vent from your house.

By: Richard Caruso, rmcaruso@andrew.cmu.edu, 412-268-9404