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Carbon monoxide (CO), an odorless and colorless gas, is created from the incomplete burning of fuels like gas, oil, natural gas, kerosene, propane, charcoal, coal, and wood.
CO can come from any device that burns fuel, such as a gas or propane furnace, gas water heater, wood burning fireplace, or a portable butane or gas heater. It can be trapped inside the home by a blocked chimney or flue. Burning charcoal inside a house or running an automobile engine in an attached garage also can produce dangerous CO levels.
The first line of defense against CO is to make sure that all fuel-burning appliances operate properly and are vented appropriately.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that properly working CO detectors can provide an early warning, whether to high levels of CO over several minutes or low concentrations that collect over several hours. Every home should have at least one CO detector. Place it in the hallway outside bedrooms, near a smoke detector.
A detector should have an Underwriters Laboratory Standard 2034 stamp on it, the CPSC advises. This standard requires detectors to sound an alarm when exposure to CO reaches potentially hazardous levels over a period of time. Detectors that meet the requirements of UL 2034 provide a greater safety margin than previously manufactured detectors.
Exposure to too much CO can cause headaches, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and general flu-like symptoms. If you have these symptoms, get to fresh air immediately and ask someone to drive you to a hospital.
Higher levels of CO poisoning lead to confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination, loss of consciousness, and death.
CO interferes with the body's ability to use oxygen and is especially dangerous to infants, older adults, people with chronic health conditions and pregnant women.
Although a CO detector is important, proper attention to and maintenance of fuel-burning appliances and devices can eliminate CO problems before they start. Protect yourself against CO poisoning with these safety tips from the CPSC:
Don't run a car engine or other fuel burner in a garage, even if the doors are open.
Regularly inspect your vehicle for exhaust leaks.
Before cold weather begins, check furnaces, hot water heaters, wood stoves, portable heaters and your chimney for leaks and cracks.
Never use a barbecue grill in a garage or other enclosed areas.
When camping, use battery-powered heaters or flashlights in tents, trailers, and motor homes. Never use unvented fuel-burning appliances in enclosed areas, such as a vehicle, camper, trailer, home, or tent.