What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

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Carbon monoxide
Poison Safety & Prevention

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill you.  It is often referred to as the “silent killer”, because you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it. When you breathe in CO, it prevents your blood cells from carrying oxygen.

Did You Know?

Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be hard to diagnose because the symptoms are like other illnesses such as the flu. CO poisonings can occur anytime a person is exposed to toxic levels of carbon monoxide.  Due to gas burning appliances used for heating and generators, more carbon monoxide poisonings occur during the Fall and Winter than other times of the year.

What are the Symptoms of CO Poisoning 

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High levels of CO poisoning can cause death
  • If several people in the home have symptoms at the same time, consider CO poisoning.
  • Children, elderly, & those with preexisting conditions are often affected first.

Where is CO Found?

CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn wood or burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.

Appliances & Equipment that produce CO:

  • Gas and oil furnaces, boilers and water heaters
  • Gas, oil, and kerosene space heaters
  • Gas kitchen ranges and ovens
  • Gas powered lawn mowers, chain saws and weed eaters
  • Cars, trucks, and mopeds
  • Charcoal grills, candles and gas lanterns
  • Generators
  • Fireplaces
  • Boats

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Install a carbon monoxide alarm in the hallway near every sleeping area in the home. Follow the recommended installation instructions. A variety of alarms are available at hardware stores and home centers. Check the battery at least twice a year, or when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Replace your CO alarm every five years. If the alarm sounds, leave the home immediately and call your local fire department.


There are several steps that should be taken to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Use the list below to make sure that you are doing all you can.

  • Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances inspected every year.
  • Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly.
  • Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys blocked by debris can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating as it can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
  • Never use a generator inside your home or garage, even if doors and windows are open.
  • If using a generator outside of your home, make sure it is more than 15 feet away from doors or windows.
  • Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house even with the garage door open.
  • Always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car or truck inside.

If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, get people and pets outside to fresh air immediately and call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222.