Carbon Monoxide ​​(CO)

Image result for cdc carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can be harmful when inhaled in large amounts. Carbon Monoxide is produced by burning fuel and may be found in outdoor and indoor air. In outdoor air, carbon monoxide is emitted from vehicle combustion or other machinery that burns fossil fuels. Carbon monoxide may be released in indoor air by portable generators, unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, leaking chimneys, and furnaces and gas stoves.​ 

Carbon Mon​​oxide In Maryland

The map below shows emergency department visit due to carbon monoxide poisoning in Maryland in 2009.


Why Shou​​​ld We Care

Carbon monoxide is often called the “Invisible Killer” because it is undetectable to humans, being both tasteless and odorless, and in high enough concentrations it can kill within minutes. Carbon monoxide claims hundreds of lives each year, and survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning can be left with psychological and neurological symptoms. However, simple steps can be be taken to protect you and your family against carbon monoxide poisoning.

What Ca​​​n You Do

The most important thing you can do is to install a battery-operated (or plug-in with battery back-up) carbon monoxide detector in your home. Install the CO alarm in the hallway near the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area, and make sure the CO alarm is not covered up by furtniture or curtains. Test the CO alarm frequently and replace dead batteries. Learn more.

A CO alarm can provide added protection in the event that an appliance becomes a source of carbon monoxide. Fuel-burning appliances that are improperly used,co1.png malfunctioning, or not installed correctly can all become sources of carbon monoxide. 

  • Make sure appliances are properly installed and operating with adequate ventilation.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
  • Never leave a car running in a garage even with the door open.
  • Never run a portable generator in the home, garage, shed, basement, or crawlspace.  When running a generator outdoors, keep it away from open windows and doors. Learn more.
  • Have appliances regularly serviced by a trained professional.
  • Never bring a charcoal grill into the house or garage for heating or cooking.

Look for other clues that carbon monoxide may be entering your home:
  • ​Rusting or water streaking on vent/chimney 
  • Loose or missing furnace panel 
  • Sooting Debris or soot falling from chimney, fireplace, or appliances 
  • Loose or disconnected vent/chimney, fireplace or appliance 
  • Loose masonry on chimney 
  • Moisture inside of windows​
​Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately, and then call 911.

​Carbon Monoxide and Boating ​

Large boats (such as house boats) sometimes have a generator that vent toward the rear of the boat. Individuals who are near the rear deck or water platform are at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide can build up above the water, near the water platform, in the air space beneath the stern deck, or on and/or near the swim deck. 

Traveling at slow speeds or idling in the water can cause carbon monoxide to build up in a boat’s cabin, cockpit, bridge, or in an open area. 

Back drafting can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside the cabin, cockpit, and bridge when a boat is operated at a high bow angle, improperly or heavily loaded, or draws in exhaust form an opening. This build-up is extremely dangerous and can kill someone in seconds.

How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning On Boats

  • Install and properly maintain a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Educate all passengers about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Swim and play away from areas where engines vent their exhaust.
  • Never block exhaust outlets.
  • Dock or anchor at least 20 feet away from nearest boat that is running. Exhaust form a nearby vessel can send carbon monoxide into your cabin/cockpit. 


Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
In August 2020, CPSC released the report, Fatal Incidents Associated with Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Engine Driven Generators and Other Engine-Driven Tools, 2009–2019​, showing that 22 percent of portable generator-related decedents were non-Hispanic Black or African Americans, which is nearly double their share of the U.S. population is where the public can file and read safety-related complaints about consumer products. More information is available at

Carbon Monoxide Information Center -

 CPSC provides free Safety Alerts, Safety Guides, posters, brochures, handbooks, and other materials which you can use to help spread consumer product safety information in your community. Safety Alerts and Neighborhood Safety Network Posters are only available online for you to print, post or share.