Chemistry

Carbon Monoxide Sources



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Exposure to the toxic gas carbon monoxide (CO) can be deadly. Since carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, it’s important to take precautions to keep your family safe. Here’s a look at sources of carbon monoxide that may be in your home. For more information, visit the EPA’s webpage on carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide is a product of combustion. That means that any time something is burning, it’s giving off carbon monoxide. Home appliances that burn gas, such as stoves, furnaces, water heaters, and dryers, can release carbon monoxide into your home if they are not properly vented. A gas stove should have an exhaust fan that vents outside. Any appliance that burns fuel should be professionally inspected, along with its chimney and flue. Proper adjustment of a gas appliance can reduce the amount of carbon monoxide that it releases into your home.

Along with installed appliances, unvented portable appliances, such as kerosene space heaters, release carbon monoxide into your home. Small gas-powered tools for construction and cleaning can be dangerous if used in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. Portable generators can be particularly deadly. Generators should only be used outdoors, never in homes, garages, sheds, or crawlspaces.

Fireplaces and wood stoves can be culprits, too. When there’s a fire burning, be sure the flue is open. Have your chimney professionally cleaned and inspected on a regular schedule.

Vehicle exhaust entering a home can contribute to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Close windows if there’s a vehicle idling nearby. Don’t run a vehicle inside a garage— carbon monoxide in the garage can quickly become hazardous.

Don’t forget that tobacco smoke includes carbon monoxide, too. Because of the many health risks of tobacco smoke, smoke outside, or don’t smoke at all.

Even if you can’t see or smell smoke, carbon monoxide sources may be present. To protect your family, it’s a good idea to have at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home. Home carbon monoxide detectors are widely available at home improvement and hardware stores. Install the detector near the bedrooms in your home, and read the instructions so you’ll know how to respond if it alarms.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure at moderate levels can resemble the flu. If you have headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, or impaired vision and coordination, and the symptoms seem to improve when you leave home and worsen when you return, you should suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide at higher levels of concentration can be fatal. If someone is showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, everyone should leave the building immediately. Call the fire department.

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