Toutle Fire and Rescue - Cowlitz County Fire District 3

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic to hemoglobic animals (both invertebrate and vertebrate, including humans) when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal biological functions. In the atmosphere, it is spatially variable and short lived, having a role in the formation of ground-level ozone.

What Are the Major Sources

Carbon Monoxide is produced as a result of incomplete burning of carbon-containing fuels including coal, wood, charcoal, natural gas, and fuel oil. It can be emitted by combustion sources such as unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, automobile exhaust from attached garages, and tobacco smoke. Problems can arise as a result of improper installation, maintenance, or inadequate ventilation.

What Are the Health Effects?

Carbon monoxide interferes with the distribution of oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body. Depending on the amount inhaled, this gas can impede coordination, worsen cardiovascular conditions, and produce fatigue, headache, weakness, confusion, disorientation, nausea, and dizziness. Very high levels can cause death.

The symptoms are sometimes confused with the flu or food poisoning. Fetuses, infants, elderly, and people with heart and respiratory illnesses are particularly at high risk for the adverse health effects of carbon monoxide.

An estimated 300 people die each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands of others end up in the hospital emergency rooms.

What About Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

Carbon monoxide detectors can be used as a backup but not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. Carbon Monoxide detector technology is still being developed and the detectors are not generally considered to be as reliable as the smoke detectors found in homes today. You should not choose a carbon monoxide detector solely on teh basis of cost, do some research on the different features available.

Carbon monoxide detectors should meet Underwriters Laboratories Inc. standards, have a long term warranty, and be easily self-tested and reset to ensure proper functioning. For maximum effectiveness during sleeping hours, carbob monoxide detectors should be placed close to sleeping areas.

  • Ensure that appliances are properly adjusted and working to manufacturers' instructions and local building codes.
  • Obtain annual inspections for heating systems, chimneys, and flues and have them cleaned by a qualified technician.
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Do not use ovens and gas ranges to heat your home.
  • Do not burn charcoal inside a home, cabin, recreational vehicle, or camper.
  • Make sure stoves and heaters are vented to the outside and that exhaust systems do not leak.
  • Do not use unvented gas or kerosene space heaters in enclosed spaces.
  • Never leave a car or lawn mower engine running in a shed or garage, or in any enclosed space.
  • Make sure your furnance has adequate intake of outside air.

Don't ignore symtpoms, especially if more then one person is feeling them.

If you think you are suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, you should:

  • Get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows. Turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
  • Obtain annual inspections for heating systems, chimneys, and flues and have them cleaned by a qualified technician.
  • Go to an emergency room. Be sure to tell the physician that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Be prepared to answer the following questions:
    • Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms?
    • Did everyone's symptoms appear about the same time?
    • Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home?
    • Has anyone inspected your appliances lately?
    • Are you certain they are working properly?

If your Carbon monoxide detector goes off, you should:

  • Make sure it is the carbon monoxide detector and not the smoke alarm.
  • Check to see if any member of your househould is experiencing symtpoms.
  • If they are, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention.
  • If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air and turn off all potential sources of carbon monoxide.
  • Have a qualified technician inspect your fuel-burning appliances and chimneys to make sure they are operating correctly.