About Carbon Monoxide

CO Dangers and Risks

CO is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. In addition to the use of CO alarms, a better understanding of carbon monoxide, including its sources, dangers and health risks, can go a long way in preventing many of these deaths and hospitalizations.

Potential CO Dangers in Your Home

  • CO is produced anytime a fuel is burned. Potential sources include gas or oil furnaces, water heaters, space heaters, clothes dryers, barbecue grills, fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, gas ovens, generators and car exhaust fumes.
  • More than two-thirds of Americans use gas, wood, kerosene or another fuel as their home's main heat source.
  • Heating systems are responsible for 65% of CO poisoning deaths from consumer products.
  • Only 50% of homes in America have CO alarms, according to industry surveys.
  • An idling vehicle in an attached garage, even with the garage door opened, can produce concentrated amounts of CO that can enter your home through the garage door or nearby windows.
  • Portable generators were involved in the majority of CO deaths involving engine-driven tools from 1999 through 2012. (Consumer Protect Safety Commission)
  • A poorly maintained gas stove can emit twice the amount of CO than one that is in good working order.

Health Consequences

So you know that CO is bad for you – and can be fatal – but what exactly does it mean for your health? The facts below can answer some of your questions, including CO health issues related to young children, pregnant women and the elderly.

  • At high concentration levels, CO can be fatal in minutes. CO rapidly accumulates in the blood and is attracted to the hemoglobin in your bloodstream. When breathed in, CO passes through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin, displacing the oxygen that cells need to function.
  • CO does not discriminate; everyone is at risk.
  • Early symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to that of the flu and are often misdiagnosed. Headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness are all non-specific symptoms of CO poisoning.
  • The combined medical cost of CO accidents, lost productivity and lost wages amount to $8.8 billion annually. Equipping every home with two CO alarms would cut that cost by 93%. (Carbon Monoxide Health and Safety Association)

Who is Most at Risk?

Young children

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, 51% of all CO poisoning cases reported involve children six years old and under.
  • In 1999, nearly 2,200 children under the age of six were accidentally poisoned by CO. (American Association of Poison Control Centers)

Pregnant women/unborn babies

  • A pregnant woman may be affected by CO exposure in the same way as a non-pregnant woman; additionally, the contaminated blood/gas compound can be passed on to her unborn child.

Elderly

  • 25% of the CO poisoning deaths from home-related products in 2001 involved adults 65 years and older. (Consumer Product Safety Commission)
  • The elderly more frequently have pre-existing health conditions that affect the heart, lungs and circulatory system. The presence of one or more of these conditions lower a victim's tolerance and increases the risk of a fatal exposure. (Consumer Product Safety Commission)