Carbon Monoxide is a Silent Threat to Indoor Air Quality

Combustible gases are a major source of indoor air pollution, and a common combustible gas is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas that can be emitted into your home from improperly vented or improperly functioning fuel burning appliances such as gas dryers, gas water heaters and gas furnaces.

Carbon monoxide exposure can cause severe health concerns if the gas enters the body and prevents the dispersal of oxygen in the blood. The extent of the physical effects of exposure depends on the concentration of the gas present in the air, the length of the exposure and the constitution of the exposed individual. However, any exposure is potentially detrimental because the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning mirror the symptoms of influenza, and the prognosis is often more serious. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, fatigue and disorientation. Exposure can adversely affect or permanently damage major organ systems and brain functions. Exposure can even cause death. The Carbon Monoxide Medical Association estimates that carbon monoxide exposure is a leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.

Controlling carbon monoxide emissions is vital to maintaining indoor air quality, but the necessary steps to prevent carbon monoxide exposure are relatively simple.

  • Increase the amount of fresh air in your home by opening doors and windows when the weather is favorable and when your climate control system is not in operation.
  • Schedule a professional inspection of all fuel burning appliances annually.
  • Operate fuel burning appliances only with adequate ventilation, and never operate such appliances in a closed environment.
  • Damaged or deteriorating fuel burning appliances are more likely to emit carbon monoxide. If any of the following signs are present, inspect appliances immediately, and repair or replace them if necessary. Signs of damage include rusted vents or chimneys, loose or disconnected vents or chimneys, loose or disconnected furnace panels, soot or debris accumulation, loose chimney masonry and moisture accumulation in windows.
  • Properly vent all fuel burning appliances.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Choose models that meet the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) standard 2034 for carbon monoxide detectors. In general, carbon monoxide detectors should be placed on every level of your home on or near the ceiling. Detectors should also be placed in areas where fuel burning appliances are present at a distance of no less than five feet from the appliances.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOUR CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR PRODUCES AN ALARM?

If your carbon monoxide detector produces an alarm, do not panic. Evacuate to a safe location and evaluate the individuals in your home.

If anyone is experiencing the aforementioned symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, then contact emergency services.

If no one is experiencing symptoms, chances of life-threatening carbon monoxide exposure are diminished. In this case, thoroughly ventilate your home and suspend use of fuel burning appliances. Then, attempt to reset the detector. If the detector continues to produce an alarm and still no one is experiencing symptoms, contact a professional to evaluate your fuel burning appliances.

If at any point an individual experiences carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Visit www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html for further information. For a downloadable poster on carbon monoxide, click here.

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