Carbon Monoxide

Where does carbon monoxide come from?

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas that you cannot smell or see. It is produced as a common by-product of the combustion (burning) of fossil fuels. Most fuel burning equipment (natural gas, gasoline, propane, fuel oil, and wood), if properly installed and maintained, produces little carbon monoxide. The by-products of combustion are usually safely vented to the outside. However, if there is a shortage of oxygen to the burner, or the venting is not adequate, carbon monoxide production can increase to dangerous levels. Common sources of carbon monoxide include gasoline engines running in closed garages, fuel-burning space heaters or water heaters with improper venting, and blocked chimneys or vent pipes.
If you breathe in carbon monoxide, it enters your bloodstream and robs oxygen from blood cells. This is called carbon monoxide poisoning.
Physical symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning vary, depending on the amount in the bloodstream. The higher the concentration, the higher the danger.
  • Low levels of carbon monoxide exposure can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, fatigue, and mild headaches.
  • Moderate levels can cause headaches, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, dizziness, or light-headedness.
  • Severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can result in unconsciousness and death.

Since many of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, you may not think carbon monoxide poisoning could be the cause.
If you or someone in your home has these symptoms, or if you have any doubts, get out of the house right away. Call 911, your local fire department, or local emergency medical service from a nearby phone.

How can you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

Follow these four safety tips:

  • Have a qualified professional routinely maintain and inspect all heating systems and any fuel-burning appliances annually to ensure they are in good working condition.
  • Have a qualified professional routinely inspect appliance vents and chimney flues annually for blockages, corrosion, cracks or leakage.
  • Never run a vehicle or use unvented fuel-burning equipment in an enclosed space.
  • Consider installing and maintaining a UL approved carbon monoxide detector and alarm following the manufacturers instructions. These devices measure the amount of carbon monoxide in the air and sound an alarm at certain levels. They should be considered as a backup and not as a replacement for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances. Preventing carbon monoxide from becoming a problem in your home is better than relying on an alarm.

What do you do if you suspect carbon monoxide?

  • If it is safe to do so, immediately turn off and stop using the suspected gas appliance, and open the windows to ventilate the area. Do not use the suspected gas appliance until it has been determined to be safe.
  • Get out of the building and make sure that no one goes back into the building until you are assured that it is safe.
  • Call 9-1-1 and seek medical attention if anyone experiences possible carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.
  • Contact PG&E or a qualified professional to have the appliance inspected.

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