Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is colorless, odorless and tasteless. While smoke inhalation from fires is a common cause of CO poisoning, cigarette smoke and vehicle exhaust are the most common sources of CO exposure. Almost every combustible material produces CO, so even items like tobacco, fibers or paper produce the gas. When fuels like gasoline, coal, wood, charcoal, kerosene, propane, heating oil and even natural gas are burned in your home, it is especially important to maintain proper ventilation to ensure that CO does not accumulate.
Any fuel-burning equipment or appliances, including wood stoves, fireplaces, space heaters, barbecue grills, furnaces, water heaters, boilers or ranges have the potential to produce CO, but when natural gas equipment is installed, operated and maintained, it usually will not produce CO.
Easy Ways to Prevent CO Build-Up
- Never operate a lawn mower, grill or vehicle in an enclosed area such as your garage, home, place of business, tent or trailer – even if a door is open.
- Never leave a fire smoldering in a fireplace.
- Have fuel-burning equipment checked annually by a qualified technician. (Southeast Gas provides an annual service check-up at no charge each fall, and provides similar check-ups throughout the year for a nominal fee.)
- Check frequently for visible signs of problems, such as high indoor humidity or soot collecting near a burner or vent.
- Look for a clear blue flame on your natural gas appliances. A yellow or orange flame could indicate a problem and your equipment should be checked by a Southeast Gas technician.
- Be sure that any fuel-burning appliances are properly vented.
- Have your central heating unit checked before the heating season begins to ensure that the heat exchanger is not cracked or rusted and that the burner area is clean.
How do I know if CO is present?
Sometimes there are physical signs when CO is present in a building. These can include unusually high indoor humidity, stuffy or stale indoor air, water or soot collecting near a vent or burner and persistent heavy condensation on walls or windows. There are also physical symptoms of exposure, depending on the amount of CO in the bloodstream. (The higher the concentration is, the higher the danger is.) The severity of the physical symptoms will vary depending on age, general health, level of physical activity and duration and concentration of exposure.
Symptoms of Mild CO Exposure
- Slight Headache
- Blurred Vision
- Flu-like symptoms that disappear when fresh air is breathed
Symptoms of Medium Exposure
- Severe headache
- Rapid heart rate
Symptoms of Severe Exposure
- Cardiac/respiratory arrest