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Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that at dangerous levels can cause illness, brain damage, or even death if there is insufficient air flow. In the U.S., over 200 deaths and several thousand cases of non-fatal poisoning per year are due to accidental exposure to CO in homes.

CO gas is created when fuels like heating oil, propane, kerosene, charcoal, gasoline, wood or natural gas are burned without enough air for complete combustion to take place. Sources of CO that can cause high concentrations in indoor air include: un-vented kerosene and gas space heaters, chimneys, improperly vented or back-drafting furnaces, generators or other gasoline powered equipment, wood stoves, fireplaces, gas stoves or gas water heaters, tobacco smoke, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and blocked flues.

Signs of CO poisoning include fatigue, nausea, trouble breathing, headaches, coughing, or dizziness, cherry lips and ear tips, or paleness. If someone experiences these symptoms, take the following actions: immediately ventilate the house by opening windows and doors, call 911 or your local fire department, and go outside into the fresh air.

EPA Resources

EPA's Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Factsheet (PDF) (2 pp., 66 K, about PDF) aims to provide information about CO symptoms and steps to take if you believe you may have CO poisoning, as well as CO prevention and detection information. See also www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html

The American Lung Association's Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet exiting EPA contains useful facts about CO, its sources and heath effects, and CO detection standards.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s fact sheets on Indoor Air Quality - www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/iaq.html "Carbon Monoxide Questions and Answers," CPSC Document #466 - www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/466.html

You can order EPA publications free of charge from EPA's National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP), visit their Website at www.epa.gov/nscep,  or call 1-800-490-9198.

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