The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup. Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed carbon monoxide alarm, with an audible warning signal, near each sleeping area and outside individual bedrooms.  A carbon monoxide alarm measures CO levels over time, and is designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms.

CONTENTS
Understand the Risk
Protect your Family
Choose a Detector

 

 

Exposing an Invisible Killer

A Fact-sheet on the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Each year in America, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning claims more than 200 lives and sends another 10,000 people to hospital emergency rooms for treatment. (A more recent review claims CO as the leading cause of more than 15,000 accidental poisoning deaths in the United States each year and another 10,000 injuries according to the Carbon Monoxide Medical Association)

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) would like you to know that there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself from deadly carbon monoxide fumes.

UNDERSTANDING THE RISK

What is carbon monoxide?

  • Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and toxic gas. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell the toxic fumes, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. At lower levels of exposure, CO causes mild effects that are often mistaken for the flu. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, disorientation, nausea and fatigue. The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure.

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

  • CO gas can come from several sources: gas-fired appliances, charcoal grills, wood-burning furnaces or fireplaces and motor vehicles.

Who is at risk?

  • Everyone is at risk for CO poisoning. Medical experts believe that unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with heart or lung problems are at even greater risk for CO poisoning.

WHAT ACTIONS DO I TAKE IF MY CARBON MONOXIDE ALARM GOES OFF?

What you need to do if your carbon monoxide alarm goes off depends on whether anyone is feeling ill or not.

If no one is feeling ill:

  1. Silence the alarm.
  2. Turn off all appliances and sources of combustion (i.e. furnace and fireplace).
  3. Ventilate the house with fresh air by opening doors and windows.
  4. Call a qualified professional to investigate the source of the possible CO buildup.

If illness is a factor:

  1. Evacuate all occupants immediately.
  2. Determine how many occupants are ill and determine their symptoms.
  3. Call your local emergency number and when relaying information to the dispatcher, include the number of people feeling ill.
  4. Do not re-enter the home without the approval of a fire department representative.
  5. Call a qualified professional to repair the source of the CO.

PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY FROM CO POISONING

  • Install at least one UL (Underwriters Laboratories) listed carbon monoxide alarm with an audible warning signal near the sleeping areas and outside individual bedrooms. Carbon monoxide alarms measure levels of CO over time and are designed to sound an alarm before an average, healthy adult would experience symptoms. It is very possible that you may not be experiencing symptoms when you hear the alarm. This does not mean that CO is not present.
  • Have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year.
  • Never use your range or oven to help heat your home and never use a charcoal grill or hibachi in your home or garage.
  • Never keep a car running in a garage. Even if the garage doors are open, normal circulation will not provide enough fresh air to reliably prevent a dangerous buildup of CO.
  • When purchasing an existing home, have a qualified technician evaluate the integrity of the heating and cooking systems, as well as the sealed spaces between the garage and house. The presence of a carbon monoxide alarm in your home can save your life in the event of CO buildup.

The United States Fire Administration
Office of Fire Management Programs
16825 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727

Last Updated: March 1999

 

The information provided on this page is based upon the USFA current scientific and technical understanding of the issues presented. Following the advice given will not necessarily provide complete protection in all situations or against all health hazards that may be caused by indoor air pollution and other indoor environmental contaminants.  The USFA have not reviewed or approved all the information and documents on indoor air quality that may be provided by other groups or organizations.

 
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