IAFF Local 925
Carbon Monoxide Information
Updated On: May 03, 2007

Carbon Monoxide...Poisoning Symptoms

Headaches, Fatigue, Nausea and Other "Flu-like" Symptoms, Loss of Consciousness, Brain Damage, Coma, Death

Normally, oxygen inhaled into your lungs combines with the hemoglobin in your blood to form oxyhemoglobin. The oxygen is transported by the hemoglobin to the body's cells. However, when Carbon Monoxide is inhaled, the CO combines with the hemoglobin in your blood (called carboxyhemoglobin or COHb) instead of oxygen, thus depriving your body of the oxygen it needs to survive. The CO displaces the oxygen on your hemoglobin because the COHb bond is over 200 times stronger than oxygen's bond with your hemoglobin. The strong COHb bond also makes it difficult for your body to eliminate CO buildups from your bloodstream. That is also the reason why Carbon Monoxide can poison you slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations.

As the CO level in your blood increases, the amount of oxygen transported to your body's cells decreases. It is this oxygen deprivation that makes Carbon Monoxide so deadly. Sensitive parts of your body like your nervous system, brain, heart, and lungs suffer the most from a lack of oxygen.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are easily mistaken for other common illnesses. For that reason, CO poisonings are often misdiagnosed. Symptoms such as headaches, , and fatigue are common to a number of illnesses such as the flu or the common cold. These symptoms can occur with a COHb blood saturation levels of 10-30%. At 30-50% COHb levels, you can experience nausea, severe headaches, dizziness, and increased pulse and respiration. If COHb levels in your blood go over 50% you may suffer from loss of consciousness, the possibility of collapse, convulsions, coma, and finally death.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide...
Poorly maintained furnaces and gas heaters, Fireplaces, Cigarette smoke, Automobile exhaust, Dirty or plugged chimneys, Poorly maintained gas, oil, or kerosene appliances, Gas engines like lawnmowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers etc., Gas and Charcoal Barbecues, Anywhere combustion takes place

Carbon Monoxide results from the incomplete combustion of carbon based fuels. The term carbon based fuels encompasses all fossil fuels including kerosene, natural gas, gasoline, propane, butane etc. Organic substances such as wood, paper, and cigarettes, are also carbon based fuels. Basically anything you would burn for heat or use to power an engine can release CO. The less efficiently these fuels are burned, the more CO released by the burning process.

That's why regular maintenance of anything in your home that burns carbon based fuels can significantly reduce your chances of being exposed to dangerous amounts of CO.

Running gas motors indoors also poses a serious Carbon Monoxide threat. A car or gas lawnmower that is running in an attached enclosed garage can cause a quick CO buildup in the home. Avoid running these types of devices while indoors, including gas and charcoal barbecues.

Levels of Carbon Monoxide...
Flamability: will explode; LEL 12.5%
Classification: Health: extremely toxic
Carbon Oxide, Flue Gas, Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colorless gas. To the human senses it is invisible. Carbon monoxide is a by-product of combustion and will appear naturally in any situation where burning has taken place.

Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas which is termed a toxic asphyxiant, meaning it reduces the oxygen transport properties of the blood. It reacts with the hemoglobin in the blood forming carboxyhemoglobin which prevents the hemoglobin from transferring oxygen. Low ppm doses of carbon monoxide can cause headaches and dizziness. If the victim is removed to fresh air no permanent damages will result. High doses can be fatal.

Effects of Various CO Levels

PPM Resulting Conditions and Effects on Humans


Permissible Exposure Level for 8 hours (OSHA)
200 Possible mild frontal headache in 2 to 3 hours.
395 Frontal headache and nausea after 1 to 2 hours. Occipital after 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 hours.
800 Headache, dizziness, and nausea in 45 minutes. Collapse and possible death in 2 hours
1600 Headache, dizziness, and nausea in 20 minutes. Collapse and death in 1 hour.
3200 Headache and dizziness in 5 to 10 minutes. Unconsciousness and danger of death in 30 minutes.
6395 Headache and dizziness in 1 to 2 minutes. Unconsciousness and danger of death in 10 to 15 minutes.
12,800 Immediate effects-unconsciousness. Danger of death in 1 to 3 minutes.

Source: American Industrial Hygiene Association

Carbon Monoxide Information

It's colorless. It's odorless. And it's deadly. It's carbon monoxide, the leading cause of poisoning deaths in America.

A free publication from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and First Alert, Carbon Monoxide (Item 561C, free), explains how to protect yourself and your family from this lethal gas. You can order a copy by sending your name and address to:

Consumer Information Center
Dept. 561C
Pueblo, CO 81009

Carbon monoxide results whenever fuel is burned. That means gas appliances, gas and oil furnaces, and wood burning stoves and fireplaces can all produce carbon monoxide buildup in your home, making it extremely important that these and other sources be in good working order with proper ventilation.

Have a professional check your furnace and fuel-burning appliances for leaks and proper venting once a year. Also have chimneys, flues and all other vents inspected for leaks and obstructions. And if you have a gas clothes dryer, don't forget to periodically check the outside exhaust for lint, which can block the vent and force carbon monoxide back inside. For added safety, install at least one carbon monoxide detector in your home.

You'll learn more with Carbon Monoxide (Item 561C, free) which includes a checklist for identifying carbon monoxide sources in the home. When you write, you'll also receive a free copy of the Consumer Information Catalog. The Consumer Information Center of the U.S. General Services Administration revises and publishes the Catalog quarterly, so you know it's up-to-date. Its pages list more than 200 free and low-cost federal publications on a variety of subjects.

What to do IF your CO Detector Activates...

Call the Fire Department!
Dial 9-1-1

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