What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colourless, odourless, toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. Appliances fuelled with gas, oil, kerosene, or wood may produce CO. If such appliances are not installed, maintained, and used properly, CO may accumulate to dangerous and even deadly levels in homes, cars or poorly ventilated areas.

Where does Carbon Monoxide come from?

Carbon monoxide is produced by devices that burn fuels. Therefore, any fuel-burning appliance in your home is a potential CO source. Electrical heaters and electric water heaters, toasters, etc., do not produce CO under any circumstances. Under normal circumstances, CO should not be detectable in the typical home or workplace. When appliances are kept in good working condition, they produce little CO. But improperly operating or improperly vented appliances can produce elevated — even fatal — CO concentrations in your home. Likewise, using kerosene heaters or charcoal grills indoors, or running a car in a garage, can cause levels high enough to result in CO poisoning.

Common sources of CO include the following wood, oil or gas fuelled appliances:

  • Boilers
  • Room heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Charcoal grills
  • Cooking ranges
  • Water heaters
  • Vehicles run in closed garages
  • Fireplaces
  • Portable generators
  • Wood burning stoves

Who is at risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning?

Any person or animal in premises shared with a device capable of generating CO should be considered at risk of CO poisoning. CO exposures especially affect unborn babies, infants, and people with anaemia 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. Many people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for CO poisoning every year; however, this number is believed to be an underestimate of CO poisoning because many people with CO symptoms mistake the symptoms for the flu or are misdiagnosed. See the symptoms page for further detail.

Why is Carbon Monoxide known as the ‘silent killer’?

Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of any fossil fuel; wood, oil, gas or coal. It acts by rendering a person gradually unconscious as a result of even short duration high concentration exposures. Unfortunately many people do not recover from the unconscious phase. Hence CO has become known as “the silent killer”.

Warning Signs you must look out for.