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ADVISORY CONCERNING ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES, THE PRACTICE OF “VAPING,” “JUULING” AND USE OF OTHER ELECTRONIC NICOTINE DELIVERY SYSTEMS OR ENDS

Carbon Monoxide

photo of a smoke and carbon monoxide detector
pull quote carbon monoxide cannot be smelled, seen or tasted

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a poisonous gas that cannot be smelled, seen or tasted. It can cause death in minutes if breathed at high levels. CO can quickly build up to unsafe levels in enclosed or semi-enclosed areas. People may be exposed to unsafe levels of CO when charcoal, natural gas, propane, gasoline, fuel oil or wood are burned in a poorly ventilated area. Breathing exhaust from a car, truck, generator or power tool in a confined area can also result in CO poisoning. Enclosed garages can quickly fill with CO if automobiles are left idling inside. CO is the leading cause of acute, unintentional poisoning and death (excluding alcohol and drug-related intoxication). 

For more information on carbon monoxide, see our Healthy Homes page.

Why is tracking carbon monoxide important?

Although carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented, every year hundreds of Tennesseans need emergency medical care. Many people are hospitalized after exposure to carbon monoxide. About 50 percent of all carbon monoxide poisonings occur inside the home, 40 percent are vehicle-related, and 10 percent occur at work. Tracking carbon monoxide poisonings helps us target outreach and prevention efforts.

How is carbon monoxide poisoning tracked?

The carbon monoxide poisoning indicator tracks acute, unintentional CO poisoning resulting in emergency department treatment or hospitalizations.

In January 2013, carbon monoxide poisoning became a reportable event in Tennessee. Within one week of diagnosis, health care providers, physicians, hospitals, laboratories or other persons knowing of suspected CO poisoning should report it to the Tennessee Department of Health. The Tennessee Poison Center and the National Fire Incident Reporting System both record possible CO poisoning cases. Click here for directions about how to report CO.

CO legislation in Tennessee

About Our Carbon Monoxide Data

Our carbon monoxide poisoning data come from emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

The carbon monoxide data include:

  • Count and rate of health outcome (carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • State and county of residence
  • Year of hospitalization or emergency department visit

Our carbon monoxide poisoning data do not include:

  • Out-of-state residents whose illness occurred in Tennessee
  • Tennessee residents whose illness occurred out-of-state

Counts less than 10 per county per year

Communication Tools

CO checklist brochure provides more information on keeping your home safe; it is available in English and Spanish

CO Fact sheet for schools provide more information on keeping your school and your children safe.
CO checklist brochure for boats provide more information on keeping your boat safe.
CO Flyer for vehicles
CO sources by season Flyer

Watch a short video about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

ATSDR carbon monoxide infographic

Additional resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Environmental Public Health Tracking carbon monoxide poisoning

Tennessee Department of Health  (TDH)
Health Statistics

Tennessee Poison Center 1-800-222-1222
www.mc.vanderbilt.edu/root/vumc.php?site=poisoncenter

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Carbon Monoxide