What is carbon monoxide?

Graphic: Carbon Monoxide molecule

Similar to carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide is also a colorless and odorless gas and is commonly known as “The Silent Killer”. Carbon monoxide is released as a combustion product of gas stoves, furnaces, appliances, automobiles, and fireplaces. The effects of carbon monoxide vary among different people, depending on factors such as age and health. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 8,000 – 15,000 individuals are either examined or treated in hospitals (for incidents other than fires) for carbon monoxide poisoning annually.

Comfort

Exposure to low levels of CO is commonly mistaken for symptoms of the flu including headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Extremely high levels of CO can even result in death. Since CO is impossible for a human to detect through smell or sight of the naked eye, this toxic gas can build up unknowingly to hazardous rates. Those who suffer from heart & respiratory diseases, are pregnant, and those who are heavy smokers will be most affected by the presence of carbon monoxide. Children and pets are affected more than adults and will experience symptoms earlier because their hearts are smaller and their respiratory rates are faster.

Residential

  • Average levels of carbon monoxide in homes that do not use gas stoves, heating equipment, etc., can be as low as 0.5 ppm, however homes with properly maintained appliances (stoves, heating systems, etc.) can reach up to 15 ppm.
  • There are many potential sources of carbon dioxide in a home that cannot be detected at a glance. Example: inside vents, chimneys and leaking from appliances.
  • See next section for acceptable/dangerous levels.

Commercial

  • The ideal level of CO is 0 ppm however levels up to 9 ppm are acceptable in offices though the presence of this gas may lead to acute health effects such as shortness of breath, nausea, and confusion.
  • Even minor factors such as traffic can affect the amount of carbon monoxide in city offices.
  • Some states are currently working on legislation requiring carbon monoxide detectors in buildings like hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls so it is important that people attending these places be conscious of symptoms caused by dangerous levels.
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