Which is the best precaution against carbon monoxide poisoning?

carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide kills, and it kills indiscriminately.  On January 29, 1902, world-famous French writer Emile Zola was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning due to a stopped-up chimney. 

Other celebrities such as poet Anne Sexton and even a great Emperor of the Roman Empire, Jovian, have died of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Closer to home, tragedy occurred in 2005 in Olympia, Washington when grandparents Nona and Dan Holm were found dead in their home of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Home Safety

Every year more than 200 Americans die from carbon monoxide poisoning inside their own homes.  Still more die from being in a closed garage with the car running.

Deadly Carbon Monoxide: Where Does It Come From?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, odorless gas that displaces oxygen in the blood.  The incomplete burning of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels forms carbon monoxide.  Natural gas stoves and other appliances that burn kerosene, oil, wood, or charcoal create carbon monoxide.  A running motor vehicle also creates carbon monoxide.  Breathing it in can be deadly.

What are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are flu-like, including:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

The severity of the symptoms and effects of carbon monoxide depend on its concentration in the air by parts per million. 

  • 35 ppm (0.0035%) Headache and dizziness within six to eight hours of constant exposure
  • 100 ppm (0.01%) Slight headache in two to three hours
  • 200 ppm (0.02%) Slight headache within two to three hours
  • 400 ppm (0.04%) Frontal headache within one to two hours
  • 800 ppm (0.08%) Dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 minutes. Unconscious within two hours.
  • 1,600 ppm (0.16%) Headache, dizziness, and nausea within 20 minutes. Death in less than two hours.
  • 3,200 ppm (0.32%) Headache, dizziness and nausea in five to ten minutes. Death within 30 minutes.
  • 6,400 ppm (0.64%) Headache and dizziness in one to two minutes. Death in less than 20 minutes.
  • 12,800 ppm (1.28%) Death in less than three minutes.

Often, because carbon monoxide is practically undetectable until the symptoms become life-threatening, early warning is the only way to prevent tragedy.

Protect Yourself: Install a Carbon Monoxide Detector

The American Red Cross and the Home Security Store recommend installing a carbon monoxide detector and alarm in every home.  The carbon monoxide detector and alarm alerts you and your family of dangerous carbon monoxide in the air. 

Monoxide Carbon detector

When buying a carbon monoxide detector:

  • Make sure it is approved by Underwriter’s Laboratories, Inc. standards.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector/alarm in every sleeping area of your home.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector/alarm on your boat or in your recreational vehicle.

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Build-Up

  • Install all appliances correctly according to factory instructions. 
  • Burn charcoal outdoors in open air only, never indoors or in a tent.
  • Turn off any gas-powered engine when inside a garage or enclosed space.
  • Do not use gas appliances such as stovetops or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Install an exhaust fan over gas stoves.
  • Open the flue in the fireplace before burning any fires.
  • Every fall, have a trained professional inspect and repair your heating system in preparation for winter.

In The Event of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you experience any of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, or if your carbon monoxide detector alarm goes off, get fresh air immediately.  Open all windows and doors and turn off appliances.  Go outside and call the fire department immediately from a neighbor’s home or your cell phone.  It is also important that you receive medical attention, because symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can manifest hours after exposure.


Carbon monoxide is a silent but deadly killer that can strike without warning.  Often, only a carbon monoxide detector will give you enough time to escape in the event of a build-up.  Though easily fatal, you can easily prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.  Install a carbon monoxide detector and protect your family.

Alex Dantas

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