What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, toxic gas that has the molecular formula CO. The molecule consists of a carbon atom that is triply bonded to an oxygen atom.

Carbon Monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of the fossil fuels - gas, oil, coal and wood used in boilers, engines, oil burners, gas fires, water heaters, solid fuel appliances and open fires.

Carbon monoxide is a commercially important chemical. It is also formed in many chemical reactions and in the thermal or incomplete decomposition of many organic materials.

Dangerous amounts of CO can accumulate when as a result of poor installation, poor maintenance or failure or damage to an appliance in service, the fuel is not burned properly, or when rooms are poorly ventilated and the Carbon Monoxide is unable to escape.

Having no smell, taste or color, in today's world of improved insulation and double glazing it has become increasingly important to have good ventilation, maintain all appliances regularly and to have absolutely reliable detector alarms installed giving both a visual and audible warning immediately there is a build-up of CO to dangerous levels.


And it is for these reasons that CO detectors are the only way to alert you to increasingly dangerous levels of CO before tragedy strikes.

What are the effects of carbon monoxide?

Carbon Monoxide produces the following physiological effects on people exposed to the concentrations shown:

 Carbon Monoxide Physiological Effects
The concentration of CO in air, inhalation time for toxic to develop.
50 parts per million (ppm) Safety level as specified by the Health and Safety Executive
200 PPM Slight headache within 2-3 hours
400 PPM Frontal headache within 1-2 hours, becoming widespread in 3 hours
800 PPM Dizziness, nausea, convulsions within 45 minutes, insensible in 2 hours

Carbon Monoxide poisons by entering the lungs via the normal breathing mechanism and displacing oxygen from the bloodstream. Interruption of the normal supply of oxygen puts at risk the functions of the heart, brain and other vital functions of the body.

The above information is for a healthy adult. Persons suffering from heart or respiratory health problems, infants and small children, unborn children, expectant mothers and pets can be affected by CO poisoning more quickly than others in the household and may be the first to show symptoms.

A Guide to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can happen within a matter of minutes and is responsible for more deaths than any other single poison. This odorless, colorless poison can hurt you slowly even at low levels it may cause severe neurological deficits at low and moderate levels or take lives in higher levels. Protection against this deadly poison may be detected by installing a simple carbon monoxide detector in your home or office.

CO is produced whenever fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned. It becomes hazardous when appliances are used improperly or not functioning adequately with poor ventilation.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious threat that people need to get informed about. By educating ourselves of the dangers of CO we can significantly reduce the health risk as well as save lives. Although everyone needs to be aware of the dangers, some people are more susceptible than others. The following are more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Fetuses
  • Infants
  • Elderly People
  • Those who suffer from anemia, respiratory or heart disease

Precautionary Measures

Routinely at the beginning of every heating season, homeowners should have their fuel-burning appliances checked by a qualified technician. Appliances deteriorate with time and can be a health risk to those who live in the home.

Besides having your appliances inspected, those using fuel-burning appliances should have their homes equipped with carbon monoxide detectors to provide added peace of mind. Appliances can break down any time of year so it is important to have a back-up system in place to keep you informed when CO levels increase. A CO detector should be placed on every floor in the home to provide the best protection. Also knowing how CO detectors work can help maximize security.

Health Risks

Low levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with other illness symptoms and can often go undetected. Carbon monoxide poisoning can result in long term health problems if not treated promptly. Symptoms such as nausea, headaches and light-headedness should alert you about potential CO exposure. Call 9-1-1 or a physician especially when more than one person in the home is showing symptoms of CO intoxication.

CO Poisoning Also Known as "Carbon Monoxide Exposure"

Early symptoms of CO poisoning, such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue, are often mistaken for the flu because the deadly gas goes undetected in a home. Prolonged exposure can lead to brain damage and even death.

Take Corrective Action - These are the basic steps.

Evacuate > Ventilate > Investigate

  • Move the affected person to fresh air. Administer oxygen if available. Contact medical help.
  • If the person is not breathing, perform artificial respiration as taught in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation Training until medical help arrives.
  • Ventilate the area.
  • Investigate the source of carbon monoxide and make repairs.