Each year about 50,000 people visit emergency rooms in the United States for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and more than 500 die each year from this silent, odorless, colorless gas.
CO can build up to dangerous concentrations indoors when fuel-burning devices—furnaces, water heaters, gas or kerosene space heaters, gas boilers, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, charcoal or gas grills, fireplaces and wood stoves, vehicles, and yard equipment—are not properly vented, operated or maintained. CO is most common in the winter months, when a heating system malfunctions in a home or when a car engine is left running in a garage.
When CO is inhaled into the lungs it displaces the oxygen in the blood stream and affects all major organs and muscles. The higher the concentration of CO, the more rapid the oxygen displacement and the greater the health risk. Beginning at CO levels of 36-99 part per million (ppm), symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. Lower levels (5-30 ppm) over extended periods of time may also cause symptoms. At 800 ppm, nausea, dizziness and convulsions may occur, and death can occur within 2 hours. At 1,600 ppm, death can occur within 1 hour.
The Minnesota Department of Health offers the following tips to help prevent CO poisoning:
Minnesota Energy Tips is provided twice a month by the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources. Contact the division’s Energy Information Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-657-3710 with energy questions.