Deadly carbon monoxide gas can rapidly accumulate from any enclosed
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas which is
highly poisonous. The chemical formula for carbon monoxide is CO,
one molecule of carbon and one molecule of oxygen. Under high
pressure, it becomes a liquid. It is produced by the incomplete
burning of natural gas, gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas, oil,
diesel fuel, kerosene, coal, charcoal, or wood. It can be released
from wildfires. Appliances that use these fuels may also produce
Running motor vehicles and tobacco smoke also produce carbon
monoxide. Other sources of carbon monoxide include unvented kerosene
and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; gas stoves;
back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and
fireplaces; and automobile exhaust, especially in closed garages.
Carbon monoxide is used to separate metals from their ores and make
other chemicals, including phosgene. It is used in blast furnaces.
How might I be exposed to carbon monoxide?
The most common source of carbon monoxide exposure is motor vehicle
exhaust. You can be exposed to carbon monoxide at home if your
appliances that burn fuel are not operating correctly, if your
appliances are not vented, or if your chimneys, vents, and flues are
blocked or damaged.
You can be exposed if you leave your car running in a garage, use
stoves or clothes dryers for heating your home, or breathe tobacco
smoke. Exposure to carbon monoxide can come from burning charcoal or
using portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside your home,
garage, vehicle, or tent. Exposure can also come from using
gasoline-powered tools and engines indoors.
You can be exposed to carbon monoxide at work if you operate
gasoline-powered machinery or vehicles in an enclosed space. You can
also be exposed if you are a firefighter, traffic police officer,
coal miner, toll booth operator, or transportation mechanic, and if
you work with blast furnaces, smelters, coke ovens, or processes
that use carbon monoxide.
How can carbon monoxide affect my health?
Exposure to very high concentrations of carbon monoxide can cause
convulsions, coma, and death through carbon monoxide poisoning.
Exposure to high levels can cause impaired vision and coordination,
unconsciousness, headaches, dizziness, confusion, vomiting, muscle
weakness, and nausea.
If you are pregnant, exposure to carbon monoxide may cause
miscarriage or increase the risk of damage to a developing fetus; it
may also result in babies with low birth weights and nervous system
damage. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur sooner in young
children; pregnant women; elderly people; people with anemia, lung
disease, or heart disease; people at high altitudes; or people who
Exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can cause fatigue, chest
pain, shortness of breath, memory loss, skin lesions, sweating, and
flu-like symptoms. In the long term, exposure to low levels can
cause heart disease and damage to the nervous system. Skin contact
with liquid carbon monoxide in the workplace can cause frostbite.
If you think you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, contact your
health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons,
please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.