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Carbon Monoxide (CO)

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What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and toxic gas. It is a product of incomplete combustion. EPHT tracks reported exposures to CO that result in treatment at a health care facility or in death. The data is separated into two categories, fire-related and non-fire-related.

SC DHEC Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet

Where does CO in our environment come from?

CO is a product of incomplete combustion. The main sources of CO includes things like un-vented kerosene or gas space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces, gasoline-powered equipment, automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, forest fires and industrial processes.

How can exposure to CO affect me?

Carbon Monoxide (CO) interferes with our body's ability to transfer oxygen. The symptoms are similar to those experienced when there is a lack of oxygen in the air we breathe and can include fatigue at lower concentrations and headaches, dizziness, nausea and confusion at higher concentrations.

How can I be exposed to CO?

We are all exposed to Carbon Monoxide (CO) in the air that we breathe. It is present in homes from gas appliances, wood burning stoves and fireplaces. The amount of CO produced while using fuel-burning appliances is usually not harmful. It becomes hazardous when appliances are used improperly or are not functioning correctly. For example, it is very dangerous to use space heaters inside without enough ventilation to remove the Carbon Monoxide that is produced. Because Carbon Monoxide is colorless and odorless, it is also very important to have Carbon Monoxide detectors in your home to alert you to any leaks from household appliances that may produce it.

There are also other sources of exposure to Carbon Monoxide; for example, smoking is a large source of Carbon Monoxide exposure. Occupational processes such as furnaces, boilers, welding and cutting operations can also produce Carbon Monoxide. Proper ventilation and monitoring equipment are the keys to working safely with Carbon Monoxide, especially in confined spaces.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) Resouces and Materials

Carbon Monoxide Exposure and Risk

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a toxic gas that you cannot see or smell.  CO is given off whenever fuel or other materials are burned.  Breathing high levels of CO can cause severe illness or death in a matter of minutes. To help alert you and your family of a leak from any fuel burning appliances, install a battery-operated CO detector in your home. If the CO detector alarm sounds, leave your home or affected area immediately and call 911.

If CO poisoning is suspected, move everyone to an area with fresh air and call 911 and the Palmetto Poison Center (1-800-222-1222).

You may be exposed to unsafe levels of CO as the result of:

  • Using poorly maintained or unvented heating equipment
  • Warming up vehicles in garages or other enclosed spaces
  • Using a gas stove or oven to heat the home
  • Leaving chimneys clogged or blocking heating exhaust vents
  • Running generators or gas-powered tools in enclosed areas or near windows, doors, or vents
  • Using a propane camp stove, heater, or light inside your home or enclosed area
  • Engaging in activities near boat engine exhaust
  • Poor ventilation during the use of a kerosene space heater, always follow instructions and safety precautions.

What are some symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Severe headache Confusion about surroundings
Sleepiness Nausea and/or vomiting
Dizziness Fainting

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These web pages are supported by Cooperative Agreement Number 5U38EH000628-02 from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.