CO Poisoning and the Environment

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a poisonous gas that cannot be smelled, seen or tasted, and can cause death in minutes if it is at high levels.  Carbon monoxide can quickly build up to unsafe levels in enclosed or semi-enclosed areas.

People may be exposed to unsafe levels of carbon monoxide when charcoal, natural gas, gasoline, other fuel oils or wood are burned in a poorly ventilated area.  Breathing automobile exhaust in a confined area can also result in carbon monoxide exposure.  Enclosed garages can quickly fill with carbon monoxide if automobiles are left idling inside.  Carbon monoxide is produced when fuel is not completely burned in:

  • Gas furnaces
  • Cars, trucks, boats and other vehicles
  • Small gasoline-powered equipment like generators, weed trimmers and chain saws
  • Gas stoves
  • Lanterns
  • Burning charcoal and wood
  • Any heating system or appliance that burns gas, oil, wood, gasoline, propane or kerosene

Tobacco smoke is a significant source of carbon monoxide in homes with smokers.  Roughly 50 percent of all carbon monoxide poisonings occur in the home, 40 percent are automobile related and 10 percent occur in work settings.

All people and animals are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.  Certain groups are more easily affected by carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Unborn babies
  • Infants
  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems
  • People who already have elevated carbon monoxide blood levels, such as smokers

Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Confusion

Breathing high levels of carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death.  People who are sleeping can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever knowing they are being exposed to the gas.

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