Carbon Monoxide: Sources and Prevention

Carbon monoxide (CO) is not just emitted from gas stoves and furnaces. As indoor air pollution, it has many sources that are important to be aware of. Carbon monoxide is the number one cause of death by poisoning in the United States each year. It is produced during the burning process by a variety of fuels like gasoline, kerosene, wood, and coal. The ventilation of appliances that burn fuel is vital for the prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning. But that is not the only important step in preventing health problems.

All appliances that burn fuel, like wood stoves, gas stoves, furnaces, gas water heaters, generators, space heaters, and fireplaces need regular maintenance and (where appropriate) cleaning to prevent excessive carbon monoxide emissions. The older the appliance, the more likely it is to be a problem, as malfunctions are a major cause of excess CO production. Also, nearby parking lots and even the garage can be sources of carbon monoxide, as vehicle emissions include this and other toxic gases.

In an average home in the United States, the air contains about 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm) of carbon monoxide. Near properly adjusted stoves, the air contains 5 to 15 ppm and a poorly adjusted stove will emit about 30 ppm or more. Regular adjustments and maintenance checks are thus urged for homeowners and landlords. For renters, it is important to advocate for appropriate appliance maintenance when it comes to appliances that produce carbon dioxide. Several other preventative steps should be taken as well.

Generators should be kept outside. In space heaters run by kerosene, it is important to use the appropriate fuel. When fireplaces are being used, be sure that the flue is all the way open. Use vented space heaters instead of unvented ones. An exhaust fan (ventilated, of course) should be installed over gas stoves. Make sure the HVAC system is professionally inspected, cleaned, and tuned up every year. Never idle a vehicle in a garage. And make sure that wood stoves are the appropriate size, are EPA approved, and that the doors fit tightly.

The acronym I CAN B is a helpful reminder for preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. Install carbon monoxide alarms by the bedrooms. Check HVAC systems and appliances that burn fuel every year. Avoid using combustion appliances without ventilation. Never burn anything inside except in appliances made for that. Be aware of carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. There can be few preventative measures more important than carbon monoxide poisoning prevention as hundreds of people are killed in the U.S. each year by this deadly form of indoor air pollution.

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