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What is Carbon Monoxide?

What is Carbon Monoxide 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is poisonous when inhaled in sufficient quantities. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels, such as gasoline, natural gas, and wood. CO binds to the hemoglobin in red blood cells, preventing oxygen from being transported to the body's tissues and organs. This can lead to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and even death.

Because it is difficult to detect without specialized equipment, it is important to have carbon monoxide detectors in homes and other enclosed spaces where fuel-burning appliances are used.

Whether you are in your home, office, or commercial setting, the burning of gasoline, wood, coal, propane, or natural gases can all produce Carbon Monoxide in hazardous concentrations.

Carbon Monoxide Dangers

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 400 people in the U.S. experience fatality from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning each year. In addition, more than 20,000 individuals visit the hospital emergency rooms and 4,000 individuals are often in critical care each year from Carbon Monoxide exposure.

Carbon Monoxide is a non-natural gas in the earths atmosphere and is created due to the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Because devices like the combustion engine cannot completely burn all the fuel one of the residual effects is carbon monoxide.

With so many potentially hazardous areas such as exhaust from automobiles, stoves, grills, fireplaces, space heaters, or furnaces, it is important to have a CO monitor to mitigate potential injuries from occurring.

When carbon monoxide gas accumulates in indoor spaces it can quickly poison both humans and animals. Just opening a window or entryway does not guarantee you're safe.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

While there are many areas where carbon monoxide exposure could occur, here are the most common source points of carbon monoxide:

  • Gas space heaters
  • Gas water heaters
  • Chimneys 
  • Furnaces
  • Gas stoves
  • Generators
  • Automobiles
  • Combustion devices (boilers)

Importance of Carbon Monoxide Monitoring

One of the most common areas of carbon monoxide in the workplace or any indoor environment, is typically near combustion engines.

For those working around automotive vehicles, boiler rooms, blast furnaces, breweries, warehouses, or steel producers, this makes having a carbon monoxide detector is critical.

For example, many individuals also living in the south, typically prepare for hurricanes by purchasing generators - not thinking about the severe hazards of exposure to CO poisoning. 

Negative Health Effects from Carbon Monoxide 

Carbon Monoxide poisoning can go unnoticed at first.

Since symptoms first appear as headaches, dizziness, or fatigue, initial symptoms may not appear as significant. However, with added exposure coworkers, occupants, or customers can experience unconsciousness in just minutes. The typical first reaction to carbon monoxide (CO) exposure also may vary depending upon individual age, health, and fitness.

Carbon Monoxide Health Risk Factors

  • Elderly - older individuals who experience CO poisoning may be at a higher risk of developing brain damage
  • Children - young children take breaths more frequently, which makes them more susceptible to CO poisoning
  • Pregnant Woman - fetal blood cells take up CO more readily than a typical adult. This makes pregnant woman at harm and unborn children more susceptible to harm from CO poisoning
  • Heart disease - Individuals with history of anemia or health issues may be more likely to gain sickness from CO exposure

Low-Moderate CO Concentrations: 

  • Fatigue
  • Chest Pain
  • Impaired Vision
  • Reduced Brain Function

High CO Concentrations: 

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Sore Throat
  • Fatality

Carbon Monoxide Exposure Limits

Carbon Monoxide Levels Chart

In normal operation and use these devices and appliances release such small amounts of CO that you’d never notice.

However, OSHA has created guidelines for individuals who may need information to conduct effective safety and health programs.

  1. OSHA PEL: The current OSHA permissible exposure limit (PEL) for carbon monoxide is 50ppm (as a 8-hour time-weighted average)
  2. NIOSH REL: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established a recommended exposure limit (REL) for carbon monoxide of 35ppm (as an 8-hour TWA) and 200ppm (as a ceiling)
  3. ACGIH TLV: The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) has assigned CO a threshold limit value of 25ppm (as a TWA for a normal 8-hour workday and a 40-hour workweek)

Measured in parts per million (ppm) CO in your home is normally less than 1-2 ppm. But it only takes 25-35 ppm to make you sick and experience headache, dizziness and nausea. 

OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control list 50 ppm as the evacuation level for CO exposure. So, you can see why more than 20,000 people visit emergency rooms annually with CO poisoning symptoms.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

As easy as it is to get sick from carbon monoxide it's easier to prevent CO poisoning incidents from occurring. At CO2Meter, we believe awareness is key.

It is more important than ever to continually educate workers, colleagues, and family members about the potential hazard areas that may result in direct CO poisoning. Understanding the importance of safety precautions around combustion equipment is the first step. 

Here are a few easy and low-cost tips we recommend per OSHA:

  • Test air regularly in areas where CO may be present
  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted
  • Use the correct fuel when using space heaters
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use, annually set inspections
  • Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA
  • Have a tried professional inspect your heating systems, annually
  • Do not {idle your car while in the garage
  • Repair any leaks, promptly
  • Use caution when working with solvents in a closed area
  • Never use a portable generator inside
  • Consider switching from gas equipment to those powered by electricity
  • Purchase and install a battery-operated CO detector
  • Never burn charcoal indoors (cook using a grill away from your home)

It is important to understand the risks and severe negative health effects that carbon monoxide exposure can cause to the human body. For those who do experience CO poisoning and survive, the recovery is almost always slow.

With the right education and understanding of Carbon Monoxide you can better prepare yourself and your colleagues by monitoring CO and having the proper precautions in place.

We hope that this quick educational guide was helpful and you are able to safeguard knowing what to look out for and what to do when around carbon monoxide (CO) hazard points.

For further information on the difference between carbon monoxide vs. carbon dioxide, read What's the Difference: Bottom CO vs. CO2

Carbon Monoxide Safety Monitors


Portable Carbon Monoxide Detector

Even though battery operated CO detectors are critical in your home, portable CO detectors like the one shown are used in industrial and commercial applications.

For more information on carbon monoxide safety solutions, contact us today or call us directly at 877-678-4259.


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