Combustion Products: Sources and Health Effects

Besides environmental tobacco smoke, there are other sources of harmful smoke within your house such woodstoves, fireplaces, gas stoves, and unvented kerosene and gas space heaters. In addition to producing particles that can cause respiratory problems, these appliances are the sources of harmful combustion products, releasing pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particles into the air of your home.

Carbon Monoxide

Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is highly toxic to humans. Carbon monoxide interferes with the way oxygen is delivered throughout the body. Difficult to detect, the initial signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are often confused with flu or food poisoning and can include headaches, weakness, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, disorientation, and unconsciousness. High levels of exposure cause substantial toxicity to the heart and central nervous system and can lead to death.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dixoide is a reddish brown gas known for its characteristic sharp, biting odor. Exposure to high concentrations of this gas irritates the mucous membranes in the nose, throat, and eyes and can cause shortness of breath. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide is linked to increased risk of respiratory infection and lung disease. Low concentrations of nitrogen dioxide will anesthetize the nose, increasing the risk of overexposure. Symptoms of nitrogen dioxide poisoning, such as cough, hemoptysis, dyspnea, and chest pain, usually appear several hours after inhalation. High exposure can cause pulmonary edema and lead to death.


Particles such as ash are released when fuels are incompletely burned. Many particles lodge in the lungs, causing irritation or damage of lung tissue. The largest danger from particles comes from attaching pollutants. These pollutants, such as cancer-causing radon and benzopyrene, attach to small particles and, upon inhalation, are carried deep into the lung.

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