According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention an average of 470 CO fatalities occur in the U.S. each year. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports about 170 people a year in the U.S. perish from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products. These products include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas.
What is carbon monoxide and where does it come from?
CO, often called the “Invisible Killer,” is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce CO.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:
High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:
Symptom severity is related to both the CO level and the duration of exposure. For slowly developing residential CO problems, occupants and/or physicians can mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu, which sometimes results in tragic deaths. For rapidly developing, high level CO exposures (e.g., associated with use of generators in residential spaces), victims can rapidly become mentally confused, and can lose muscle control without having first experienced milder symptoms; they will likely die if not rescued.
Can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?
Yes, you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by following these simple steps:
How should I install a carbon monoxide detector?
CO detectors should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions. The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that one CO detector be installed in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home. CO detectors may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall. Hard wired or plug-in CO detectors should have a battery backup. Avoid locations that are near heating vents or that can be covered by furniture or draperies. CPSC does not recommend installing CO detectors in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances.
What should I do when the carbon monoxide detector sounds?
Never ignore an alarming CO detector! It is warning you of a potentially deadly hazard. If the alarm signal sounds do not try to find the source of the CO. Follow these steps:
If authorities allow you to return to your home, and your detector reactivates within a 24 hour period, repeat steps 1, 2 and 3 and call a qualified appliance technician to investigate for sources of CO from all fuel burning equipment and appliances, and inspect for proper operation of this equipment. If problems are identified during this inspection, have the equipment serviced immediately. Note any combustion equipment not inspected by the technician and consult the manufacturers’ instructions, or contact the manufacturers directly, for more information about CO safety and this equipment. Make sure that motor vehicles are not, and have not been, operating in an attached garage or adjacent to the residence.
How do I maintain my carbon monoxide detectors?
Follow these suggestions for maintaining your CO detectors:
Where can I go for further information?
To have your questions answered and for other general information please contact the Community Risk Reduction Section at (803) 896-5454 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Jones,   State Fire Marshal
141 Monticello Trail, Columbia, SC 29203
(803) 896-9800 | Office Hours: 8:30 a.m.- 5:00 p.m. | Monday - Friday except State Holidays