Carbon Monoxide Safety

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, toxic gas that has the molecular formula CO. The molecule consists of a carbon atom that is triply bonded to an oxygen atom. Carbon Monoxide is a commercially important chemical. It is also formed in many chemical reactions and in the thermal or incomplete decomposition of many organic materials.

Sources of CO

Carbon Monoxide is produced by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, such as gas, oil, coal and wood used in:
  • Boilers
  • Engines
  • Gas fires
  • Oil burners
  • Open fires
  • Solid fuel appliances
  • Water heaters

How CO Accumulates

Dangerous amounts of CO can accumulate when, as a result of poor installation, poor maintenance or failure or damage to an appliance in service, the fuel is not burned properly, or when rooms are poorly ventilated and the CO is unable to escape.

Safety Precautions

Having no smell, taste or color, in today's world of improved insulation and double glazing, it has become increasingly important to have good ventilation, maintain all appliances regularly and to have absolutely reliable detector alarms installed, giving both a visual and audible warning immediately if there is a buildup of CO to dangerous levels. It is important to have CO Detectors to alert you to increasingly dangerous levels of CO before tragedy strikes.

Effects of CO

Carbon Monoxide produces several physiological effects on people exposed to varying levels of concentrations.
Concentration of CO in Air
Inhalation Time & Toxic Developments
50 parts per million (ppm) Safety level as specified by the Health and Safety Executives
200 ppm
Slight headache within 2-3 hours
400 ppm
Frontal headache within 1-2 hours, becoming widespread in 3 hours
800 ppm
Dizziness, nausea, convulsions within 45 minutes; insensible in 2 hours

How CO Poisons

Carbon Monoxide poisons by entering the lungs via the normal breathing mechanism and displacing oxygen from the bloodstream. Interruption of the normal supply of oxygen puts at risk the functions of the heart, brain and other vital functions of the body.


The above information is for a healthy adult. Persons suffering from heart or respiratory health problems, infants and small children, unborn children, expectant mothers and pets can be affected by CO poisoning more quickly than others in the household and may be the first to show symptoms.