Carbon Monoxide

General Information:

  • It is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas.
  • Every year in the United States, 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning and more than 2,000 commit suicide by intentionally poisoning themselves with the gas.
  • Can cause sudden illness or death before anyone knows they are being exposed

Sources of CO:

  • Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
  • Leaking chimneys and furnaces
  • Back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces
  • Gas stoves
  • Generators and other gasoline powered equipment
  • Automobile exhaust from attached garages, nearby roads, or parking areas
  • Tobacco smoke

Symptoms of CO poisoning:

  • Lower levels
    • Flu-like symptoms- headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, confusion, fatigue
  • Higher levels

o Harmful effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs and tissues
o Impair vision and coordination, hypotension, lethal arrhythmias, pulmonary edema
o Immediate death

Standards and Guidelines:

  • No standards have been established for indoor air
    • Average levels in homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 ppm
    • Levels near properly adjusted gas stoves are often 5 to 15 ppm
    • Levels near poorly adjusted stoves may be 30 ppm or higher


  • Outdoor air

o 9 ppm for 8 hours
o 35 ppm for 1 hour

Who is at risk?

  • Especially, unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens
  • People with heart or lung problems

What to do if CO poisoning is suspected:

    1. Evacuate all occupants immediately
    2. Determine how many people are ill and their symptoms
    3. Call your local emergency number
    4. DO NOT re-enter the facility without the approval of a fire department representative
    5. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of CO

Steps to reduce risk of CO poisoning:

  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted
  • Replace unvented space heaters with vented ones
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters
  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emission standards
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system
  • DO NOT idle vehicles inside garage
  • NEVER use your range or oven to help heat your home
  • Install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace batteries when you change the time on your clock each spring and fall

CO in the New River Valley:

  • The New River Valley is ranked in the 80-90th percentile as being one of the worst places in the United States for carbon monoxide emissions.
  • Most homes located in the area do not have carbon monoxide detectors.
  • There are hundreds of calls each year to the fire department for suspected carbon monoxide poisonings.
  • If you live in the New River Valley, you can make a difference in your environment by following some of the simple steps listed above to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning.

EPA™s Efforts to Reduce CO:

  • 1970- Clean Air Act sets first auto emissions standards
  • 1974- EPA sets fuel economy standards
  • 1975- First catalytic converters are used for CO and hydrocarbons, first use of unleaded gas in catalyst-equipped cars
  • 1983- Vehicle inspection and maintenance programs established in 64 cities
  • 1990- Clean Air Act Amendments set new tailpipe standards.
  • 1992- Oxyfuel introduced in cities with high CO levels
  • 1994- Phase-in of new vehicle standards and technologies begins
  • EPA has also set 2 national health protection standards for CO as mentioned above in standards and guidelines

Links for Further Information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Fire Administration
Environmental Protection Agency
Developed by: Nikki Groves


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