What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic to animals that use hemoglobin as an oxygen carrier (both invertebrate and vertebrate) when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal biological functions. In the atmosphere, it is spatially variable and short lived, having a role in the formation of ground-level ozone.

Carbon monoxide consists of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom, connected by a triple bond that consists of two covalent bonds as well as one dative covalent bond.[5] It is the simplest Oxo carbon and is isoelectronic with other triply-bonded diatomic molecules having ten valence electrons, including the cyanide anion, the nitrosonium cation and molecular nitrogen.”

- (Wikipedia, 2019, Carbon Monoxide)

Carbon Monoxide, What Creates It? 

Old, poorly maintained, or misused appliances can cause carbon monoxide emissions. Carbon monoxide is created when carbon-based fuels, (i.e. wood, oil, gasoline, natural gas, propane, charcoal, etc.) get burned with inadequate amounts of oxygen which creates “incomplete combustion” and emits CO. Carbon monoxide poisoning is rare, but to reduce the risk of CO exposure, please get an annual inspection of all appliances that burn carbon-based fuels. 

Examples of Causes of Carbon Monoxide are: 

  • Cars left running inside garages
  • Improperly installed, misused, or badly maintained appliances 
  • A clogged chimney: animals such as birds or squirrels could be the cause
  • Appliances that are incorrectly connected to a chimney
  • A wood burning stove that is vented with a furnace in the same ventilation source
  • Excessive weather stripping or insulation
  • Misused auxiliary wood burning heaters or fireplaces
  • Auxiliary power generators that are not properly installed leading to exhaust pollution in the home
  • Portable generators which are in an enclosed or partially blocked off space. 

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Exposure

  • Please do not try to use an oven, grill, or space heater to heat your home. These devices were not built for this purpose.
  • Portable generators should only be used outside your home and should be a comfortable distance from your home. 
  • Get your fuel burning appliances an annual safety inspection.
  • Last but not least, you should install, at a minimum, one carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your house.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms

Having carbon monoxide poisoning can be similar to having the flu. The possible symptoms include headaches, light-headedness, unsettled stomach, shortness of breath, nausea and even brain fog. Carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the blood, so prolonged exposure can lead to death by asphyxiation.

Signs of Carbon Monoxide 

Some signs that should the possible presence of carbon monoxide are:

  • Yellow, unsteady, and possibly bigger than usual burner flames 
  • Strong, spicy like smells upon using the appliances 
  • Symptoms such as nausea, sleepiness, lethargy, and flu-like symptoms

What to Do in the Event of a Carbon Monoxide Leak 

  • Immediately turn off or stop using the suspected source of the leak (i.e. one of your gas appliances). 
  • Do not use the carbon monoxide producing appliance again until it has been either fixed or replaced by a licensed contractor or qualified professional. 
  • Go outside (far enough away from the carbon monoxide exposed area) to get some fresh air. Ensure that any individuals with signs of carbon monoxide poisoning immediately get fresh air.
  • Call (911) and tell the authorities about your carbon monoxide emergency. They can help you to resolve the problem and get you any needed professional medical attention.