Carbon Monoxide (CO) Dangers and Risks

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning.

In addition to the use of CO alarms, a better understanding of carbon monoxide, including its sources, dangers and health risks, can go a long way in preventing many of these deaths and hospitalizations.

Potential CO Dangers in Your Home

Don’t let CO make itself at home in your house. See the sources, get the facts and take a look at helpful tips.

CO Facts

  • CO is produced any time a fuel is burned. Potential sources include gas or oil furnaces, water heaters, space heaters, clothes dryers, barbecue grills, fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, gas ovens, generators, and car exhaust fumes.

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America. (Centers for Disease Control)

  • More than two-thirds of Americans use gas, wood, kerosene or another fuel as their home's major heat source.

  • 65% of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths from consumer products are due to heating systems.

  • Only 50% of homes in America have CO alarms, according to industry surveys.

  • An idling vehicle in an attached garage, even with the garage door opened, can produce concentrated amounts of CO that can enter your home through the garage door or nearby windows.

  • Portable generators were involved in the majority of CO deaths involving engine-driven tools from 1999 through 2012. (CPSC)

  • A poorly maintained gas stove can give off twice the amount of CO than one that is in good working order.

Tips for Prevention

  • Install at least one battery-powered CO alarm or AC-powered unit with battery backup on each level of your home and near sleeping areas.

  • Do not use charcoal or gas grills inside or operate outdoors near a window where CO fumes could seep in.

  • Check all CO alarms in your home. Do they use the most accurate sensing technology? Do they need new batteries?

  • Replace CO alarms every five to seven years to benefit from the latest technology upgrades.

  • Have a licensed professional inspect heating systems and other fuel-burning appliances annually.

  • Install fuel-burning appliances properly and operate them according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Keep chimneys clear of animal nests, leaves and residue to ensure proper venting. Have all fireplaces cleaned and inspected annually.

  • Do not block or seal shut the exhaust flues or ducts used by water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers.

  • Do not leave your car running in an attached garage or carport.

  • Do not use ovens or stoves to heat your home.

Health and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

So you know that carbon monoxide is bad for you – and can even be fatal – but what exactly does it mean for your health? The facts below should help answer some of your questions, including CO health issues related to young children, pregnant women, and the elderly.

  • At high concentration levels, carbon monoxide can be fatal in minutes. CO rapidly accumulates in the blood and is attracted to the hemoglobin in your bloodstream. When breathed in, CO passes through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin, displacing the oxygen that cells need to function.

  • Carbon monoxide does not discriminate; everyone is at risk.

  • Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu and are often misdiagnosed. Headaches, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness are all non-specific symptoms of CO poisoning.

  • The combined medical cost of CO accidents, lost productivity and lost wages amounts to $8.8 billion a year. Equipping every home with two CO alarms would cut that cost by 93%. (Carbon Monoxide Health and Safety Association)

Young Children

  • According to the Mayo Clinic, 51% of all poisoning cases reported involve children six years old and under.

  • In 1999, nearly 2,200 children under the age of six were accidentally poisoned by CO. (American Association of Poison Control Centers)

Pregnant Women/Unborn Babies

  • A pregnant woman may be affected by CO exposure in the same way as a non-pregnant woman; additionally, the contaminated blood/gas compound can be passed on to her unborn child.


  • 25% of the carbon monoxide poisoning deaths from home-related products in 2001 involved adults 65 years and older. (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

  • Older adults more frequently have pre-existing health conditions that affect the heart, lungs and circulatory system. The presence of one or more of these conditions lowers a victim's tolerance and increases the risk of a fatal exposure. (CPSC)