Carbon monoxide

Published on July 23, 2012
Although the popularity of carbon monoxide (CO) alarms has been growing in recent years, it cannot be assumed that everyone is familiar with the hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.

Often called the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, colorless gas created when fuels (such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil, and methane) burn incompletely. In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel are potential sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles or generators running in an attached garage can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Facts & figures

  • The dangers of CO exposure depend on a number of variables, including the victim's health and activity level. Infants, pregnant women, and people with physical conditions that limit their body's ability to use oxygen (i.e. emphysema, asthma, heart disease) can be more severely affected by lower concentrations of CO than healthy adults would be.
  • A person can be poisoned by a small amount of CO over a longer period of time or by a large amount of CO over a shorter amount of time.
  • In 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 80,100 non-fire CO incidents in which carbon monoxide was found, or an average of nine such calls per hour.  The number of incidents increased 96 percent from 40,900 incidents reported in 2003. This increase is most likely due to the increased use of CO detectors, which alert people to the presence of CO.

Source: Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Incidents," by Ben Evarts, March 2012.

Related NFPA report
Deaths and Injuries due to Non-Fire Exposure to Gases” report by John R. Hall, Jr., September 2013.

VideoBen Evarts, Research Analyst at NFPA, discusses key points from NFPA's report "Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Incidents." He explains why carbon monoxide is dangerous and talks about fire department responses to these incidents.

 

 

 

 









 







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Updated: 5/12

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