Carbon Monoxide Facts

The Hazard
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene, or wood may produce CO. If such appliances are not installed, maintained, and used properly, CO may accumulate to dangerous levels.

Breathing CO causes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and weakness in healthy people. CO also causes sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.
This is particularly dangerous because CO effects often are not recognized. CO is odorless and some of the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu or other common illnesses.

CO exposures especially affect unborn babies, infants, and people with anemia or a history of heart disease. Breathing low levels of the chemical can cause fatigue and increase chest pain in people with chronic heart disease. 

The Data
In 1989, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there were about 220 deaths from CO poisoning associated with gas-fired appliances, about 30 CO deaths associated with solid-fueled appliances (including charcoal grills), and about 45 CO deaths associated with liquid- fueled heaters.

Nearly 5,000 people in the United States are treated in hospital emergency rooms for CO poisoning. This number is believed to be an underestimate because many people with CO symptoms mistake the symptoms for the flu or are misdiagnosed and never get treated.