Carbon Monoxide

What is it?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and toxic gas. Due to these properties it can kill you before you even know you have been exposed. Carbon monoxide blocks oxygen from attaching to red blood cells for transportation around the body. The average levels in homes without gas stoves vary from 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). The highest levels of carbon monoxide are found when the weather is cold.

Emission sources
These are a few of the ways carbon monoxide is put into the air:
  • Kerosene and gas space heaters with no ventilation 
  • Leaking chimneys and furnaces 
  • Back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces 
  • Gas stoves 
  • Generators and other gasoline powered equipment 
  • Automobile exhaust from attached garages 
  • Tobacco smoke 

Health effects 
Any exposure to carbon monoxide may cause harm to your health. Here are some common health effects related to carbon monoxide based on concentration level: 
  • carbon monoxide

    Low levels 
    • Fatigue 
    • Chest pains for those with heart disease 
  • Medium levels 
    • Impaired vision and coordination 
    • Headaches 
    • Dizziness 
    • Confusion
    • Nausea
  • High levels 
    • Reduced brain function 
    • Reduction of oxygen intake in the blood
  • Very high levels
    • Fatal 
Some of these symptoms are similar to the flu, so it important to notice if they go away after you leave the area. Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, regardless of their health status. It is important to leave the area when you start having these symptoms. If you believe you were exposed to carbon monoxide it is important to have someone come check out the area.   

Ways to reduce exposure 
  • Keep gas appliances properly adjusted and clean 
  • Buy vented space heaters instead of ones without vents 
  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters 
  • Install and use exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves 
  • Open flues when fireplaces are in use 
  • Choose wood stoves that are EPA emission certified and make sure all the doors fit tightly 
  • Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system annually and repair any leaks quickly
  • Do not have an idle car sitting inside the garage 
  • Think about installing carbon monoxide detectors to help prevent high levels and change the batteries every six months to make sure they are functioning 
  • Never burn charcoal indoors 
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window, door, or vent   
  • Northwest Natural Gas company does free annual equipment inspections, which can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

Visible clues of carbon monoxide
  • Rusting or water streaking on vent/chimney 
  • Loose or missing furnace panel 
  • Debris or soot falling from chimney, fireplace, or appliances 
  • Loose or disconnected vent/chimney, fireplace or appliance 
  • Loose masonry on chimney 
  • Moisture inside of windows may indicate that your furnace or another fuel burning appliance is not venting properly 

What to do if you believe you are experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Get fresh air. Turn off the combustion appliance and leave the house. 
  • Go to an emergency room and get tested for carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Be prepared to answer these questions: 
    • Do your symptoms occur only in the house? Do they disappear or decrease when you leave home and reappear when you return? 
    • Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms? Did everyone's symptoms appear about the same time? 
    • Are you using any fuel-burning appliances in the home? 
    • Has anyone inspected your appliances lately? Are you certain they are working properly?