The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Updated: Jan 19
Winter is a good time to remind ourselves of the potential risk of carbon monoxide exposure from faulty or un-flued gas heaters or other gas devices.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas arising from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. In a domestic setting, sources of CO include gas heaters (with and without flues), gas stoves, wood or charcoal heaters, tobacco smoke, and infiltration of car exhaust from attached garages.
Emissions in enclosed and unventilated domestic spaces can cause fatalities and hospitalizations.
How does carbon monoxide harm?
Many heaters we use to heat our homes work by combusting gas. When gas is burned it releases carbon monoxide, as well as other gases, and if these are not properly flued to the outside of the home (a pipe or other mechanism to exhaust the smoke and gases to the outside of the home) or if the heater is faulty or old, and there is insufficient ventilation of the home, these gases can build up inside the home to hazardous levels.
When present at elevated levels, CO can diffuse rapidly into the blood, binding with hemoglobin to form “carboxyhemoglobin”. This reduces the capacity of blood to carry oxygen, which our tissues need to survive.
It’s uncertain what the effects of CO are at low concentrations, but at very high concentrations CO can lead to unconsciousness and death, which can occur within several minutes.
Symptoms of CO poisoning can be mistaken for the flu, and include dizziness, headaches, malaise, and nausea. Potentially susceptible groups include the elderly, people with health conditions, children, pregnant women, and their unborn babies.
This is why it is extremely important to have working CO monitors in the home and check them at least 2x/yr and ALWAYS have your heating system inspected by a professional before each heating season.