Carbon Monoxide Facts

Carbon Monoxide Awareness

Supporters of The Lauren Project prepare to distribute free Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Windosor, CO.















The “Silent Killer”

Carbon monoxide gas is known as the “silent killer”. It is a poisonous gas created by poor combustion or improper ventilation of furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and even motor vehicles (left running in an enclosed area). Since it cannot be seen or even smelled, if concentrations become high enough, it can quickly injure or kill you or a loved one. More than 500 people die each year from carbon monoxide (C.O.) poisoning each year and more that 15,200 go to the hospital for treatment.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas produced by incomplete combustion. Anytime a fuel burns, whether in a wood stove, automobile, furnace, water heater, outdoor grill or campfire, CO is produced.

Why is it harmful?

It is harmful because it is invisible and odorless and displaces the oxygen in your blood. You can’t see it or smell it, which is why it is often referred to as the silent killer. When you inhale CO, those molecules attach to your red blood cells more easily than oxygen molecules. Your blood carries the CO molecules to your cells that are expecting new oxygen. When that oxygen doesn’t arrive, the cells start dying. When enough cells die, you die.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

CO poisoning feels like the flu or food poisoning. You’ll feel dizzy, restless, have mental confusion, severe headaches, fatigue and fainting. Eventually, CO poisoning can cause death.

How much CO is too much?

Any CO is too much, partially because it remains in your system. Small amounts of CO over a long period are just as deadly as large amounts in a short period. Fire fighters test the air and look for anything over 35ppm as harmful.  This is the maximum allowable concentration for continuous exposure in an 8 hour period.

When are you most at risk for CO poisoning?

CO poisonings spike in the winter because we use our furnaces, water heaters, and space heaters much more during the cold months. We are tempted to start our cars in the garage before braving the cold weather outside, which can lead to CO poisoning. Recreational vehicles are another potential place where people are subject to CO poisoning through furnaces or generators.  So camping is another area to make sure you have protection. However, CO poisoning can happen at any time of the year.

How do we protect our families against this deadly gas?

Installing CO alarms is the best defense against CO poisoning.  Maintaining appliances, using the proper fuel and cleaning the chimney annually. Installing and maintaining a CO alarm on each floor of the house, especially near sleeping areas is the best solution. Most manufacturers recommend replacing CO detectors every 5 to 7 years since their sensors deteriorate. Boating is another activity that can lead to CO poisoning.  The CO can collect near the back or the boat or around the water’s edge in the exhaust area.  It can cause injury or death very quickly. (see for more information on CO and boating)

Where should you place a CO detector?

  • Near or in bedrooms is a # 1 priority.
  • On each level of the home.
  • Near any appliances that burn fuels.
  • CO mixes with air fairly evenly, so plug-in models near the floor are as good as models integrated into smoke alarms.
  • Garages, especially if work in the garage with the door closed. Near the back of boats or in sleeping quarters.

What are the different types of CO alarms?

We recommend a plug-in with battery backup in case the electricity goes off. CO alarm only or combo CO/smoke are fine. Get a UL Listed alarm that meets the UL2034 safety standards (Consumer Product Safety Council recommended). UL 2034—how the alarm will respond and at what levels of CO.

What should a family do if the CO alarm activates

Leave the house(or business or enclosed area) immediately and call 911 from outside.  Grab the pets, too, if you can do so quickly.  Calling 911 is especially important if you feel any symptoms of CO poisoning. If feeling ill but alarm doesn’t go off, go to doctor, urgent care or ER.  Let them know if you suspect CO poisoning.

What can a family expect when they call 911

Firefighters and paramedics will assess you and your family for symptoms and treat or transport you if necessary. They will also wear protective equipment and explore the building/area to find the source of the CO. They will have suggestions on how to solve the problem.

Where can I get additional information

  • Contact your local fire department or visity

What should I do right now?

Most CO detectors are inexpensive and easy to install.  Don’t wait to protect yourself and the people you love.  If your state does not have CO legislation, and you would like help advocating for this, let The Lauren Project know and we will support your efforts in as many ways as we can. 

*Sorce: U.S. Fire Administration and the Fire and Life Safety Educators website