Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – A Silent Yet Deadly Threat

With the cold weather upon us and furnaces, space heaters and wood burning stoves being run not to mention vehicles being allowed to idle in garages to ‘warm up’ the threat of poisoning not only ourselves but our pets becomes a very real possibility.

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colourless gas that is produced by burning any type of fuel (oil, gas, kerosene, wood or charcoal).  When CO is inhaled it replaces the oxygen in your blood.  When cells in the body are deprived of oxygen they begin to die which then leads to organ failure.  What is so scary about CO is that we cannot smell it, see it or taste it.  We are unaware it is in our surroundings.  Low level exposure over time can lead to neurological damage, hypoxic injury, severe heart problem, brain damage or ultimately death.  High levels of exposure can result in death in a matter of minutes.

Wikipedia cites the following table:

Concentration Symptoms
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; loss of judgment
400 ppm (0.04%) Frontal headache within one to two hours
800 ppm (0.08%) Dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 min; insensible within 2 hours
1,600 ppm (0.16%) Headache, tachycardia, dizziness, and nausea within 20 min; death in less than 2 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. Convulsions, respiratory arrest, and death in less than 20 minutes.
12,800 ppm (1.28%) Unconsciousness after 2–3 breaths. Death in less than three minutes.

Carbon monoxide detectors are readily available and can be installed in minutes in your home.  Be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions and ensure to purchase one that is endorsed by the Standards Council of Canada (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada/ULC or the Canadian Standards Association/CSA Approved).  New homes may have them hardwired in along with smoke detectors. 

Now is a good time of year to check the batteries in your CO and smoke detectors.  If you do not already have a CO detector it is advised to have one place in hallways adjacent to bedrooms and in areas around furnaces and heaters.

By following a few simple steps you can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:

* Make sure all fuel burning appliances (furnaces, oil or gas heaters, wood burning stoves/chimneys/fireplaces, space heaters) are inspected on a yearly basis.

* Ensure all chimneys and flues are checked for blockages and are in good working order.

* If you or family members are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above see your family doctor.  Have pets examined by your veterinarian should they exhibit any of the signs mentioned.

* If your CO Detector sounds an alarm evacuate all people and pets and call 911 or head to the Emergency Room at your nearest hospital.  Do not risk unnecessary exposure to your family members and pets.


For further information you can check these sites:

Health Canada Reminds Canadians of the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide and How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (overview by the Government of BC)

Wikipedia Article on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning