Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas. It is produced when liquid, solid, or gas fuel is burned. It is sometimes confused with carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon monoxide can be a poison, even at low levels, while carbon dioxide is a normal part of the breathing process.
Nationwide, hundreds of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning every year, and thousands are treated in hospitals.
Carbon monoxide lowers the body’s ability to carry oxygen to vital organs such as the heart and brain. In general, the more carbon monoxide a person inhales, the more serious the damage that occurs. The elderly, young children, babies, fetuses, and people with anemia or heart or lung problems are more sensitive to the effects of carbon monoxide. During strenuous exercise, people are also more sensitive to the effects of carbon monoxide.
The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu-like symptoms—such as headache, dizziness, and nausea. Breathing carbon monoxide causes these symptoms even in healthy people. It can also cause sleepiness, vision problems (including blurred vision), ringing in the ears, aching arms and legs, irregular breathing, fatigue, and confusion. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.
Breathing low levels of carbon monoxide over a few hours can have just as harmful an effect as breathing high levels for a few minutes. If symptoms go away when you leave your home but come back when you return, there may be a carbon monoxide problem in your home.
Carbon monoxide detectors measure the amount of carbon monoxide in the air and sound an alarm at certain levels. Before purchasing a carbon monoxide detector for your home or apartment, be sure that it meets the requirements of Underwriters Laboratory (UL).
The requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in public buildings, including multi-family and rental dwellings, are included in the Vermont Fire Safety Code.
If your carbon monoxide detector alarm goes off, go outside and call 9-1-1. If you need medical attention, tell the emergency responders that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, and follow their advice.
Once you have had your home or apartment checked, it is important to take action to correct any detected problems. If you are a tenant and you need help talking to your landlord about the problem, contact your Regional Fire Safety Office.
for More Information:
- Indoor Air Quality
- Information on Other Environmental Chemicals and Pollutants
- Vermont Division of Fire Safety
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Northern New England Poison Control Center
- Local resources in your area: fire department, fuel dealer or service technician, building inspector, community action or weatherization program, or heating and ventilating contractors