Chemistry

An Overview of Sources of Carbon Monoxide



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There are lots of things that people need to do in order to sustain themselves. Breathing oxygen happens to be at the top of the list of those requirements. However, when that precious oxygen has carbon mixed into the equation, it can be deadly. When these two elements are mixed together, it results in carbon monoxide. (CO). To make matters worse, this gas is impossible to see, smell, or taste, and because of this, a heavy concentration of this substance can kill a person within minutes.

At lower levels, one exposed to carbon monoxide can experience dizziness, headaches, nausea, disorientation, and perhaps most dangerous of all, fatigue. Such bodily signs indicate other illnesses such as the flu. This is of grave concern, for there are many sources of this deadly gas that can come from one’s very home. Mistaking low levels of  CO exposure for such a common ailment as the flu can therefore result in people slowly poisoning themselves! Because of this, it is of utmost importance to be made aware of common items that can produce this gas.

Some of these include the following:

Unventilated kerosene and gas space heaters
Gas water heaters
Wood stoves
Fireplaces
Gas generators, especially those used in camping applications
Automobile exhaust from attached or enclosed garages
Worn, poorly adjusted/ maintained boilers or furnaces
Improperly sized, disconnected, blocked, or leaking flues from such appliances

Tobacco smoke has minuscule traces of CO, and is therefore listed as a source as well, but the concentrations are so tiny that they are virtually undetectable and fall far below OSHA tolerances. It is thus probable that the only reason tobacco smoke is included in this list stems from political bias.

Similarly, even automobile exhaust from nearby roads and parking areas is listed, but if the area is not enclosed as are all of the items listed above, a person will not be exposed to any significant amounts of carbon monoxide. However, it is not uncommon to see motorists sleeping in their cars during cold weather at rest stops with their engine running. This is a bad idea because even the slightest exhaust leak can put this deadly gas into the vehicle’s interior .

Interestingly, many deaths from house fires are not caused by burning but rather exposure to carbon monoxide. As the materials used in construction burn, the resultant smoke inhaled by victims trapped in the structure will contain lethal doses of this gas. While such an unfortunate individual’s body may be burned up by the time it is found,  the inhalation of CO is usually what caused the death.

Preventative Measures


Because so many household items can produce toxic levels of CO before a person is aware of it, consumer advocates recommend the installation of detectors near sleeping areas. Additional devices in every room or level provide even greater protection. An audible alarm is highly advised so that occupants can be awakened in the event such an enclosed space is contaminated during sleeping hours.

In addition, it is imperative that appliances such as stoves and furnaces are serviced and maintained on a regular basis. If you have no idea of how to do this, hire qualified personnel to do it for you. It will cost money, but the safety of you and your loved ones is at stake.

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ARTICLE SOURCES AND CITATIONS
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html
  • InfoBoxCallToAction ActionArrowhttp://www.extension.iastate.edu/pages/communications/co/co1.html