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What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO is an odorless, colorless gas that is given off whenever fossil fuels are burned. Carbon monoxide is a poison, even at low levels, while carbon dioxide is a normal part of the breathing process. Breathing high levels of CO can cause severe illness or death in a matter of minutes.

Where is carbon monoxide found?

Carbon monoxide is found in combustion fumes, such as those made by cars and trucks, portable generators, wood-burning stoves, gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these fumes can build up in places that do not have a good flow of fresh air. Fumes with CO can also build up if heating systems are not maintained or vented properly. In Vermont, CO can build up if a vent to the outside is blocked by snow, causing the fumes to stay in the house.

Propane camp stoves, heaters, or propane lights also create fumes with CO. Carbon monoxide can build up if these camping supplies are used inside a tent. Boat engine exhaust and barbecue grills are other sources of carbon monoxide. Grills should not be used inside a garage or near windows.

What is carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is breathing in too much carbon monoxide. Inhaled carbon monoxide enters the lungs where it replaces oxygen in red blood cells and is then carried throughout the body. Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those experienced when there is too little oxygen in the air we breathe.

Symptoms can vary from mild (fatigue, headache, dizziness, nausea) to severe (loss of consciousness and death). The exposure levels influence the recovery and the damage done to an individual. Mental abilities can be impaired and permanent brain damage can occur.

Most people who survive CO poisoning recover fully. Studies have found, however, that 10 to 40 percent of survivors of severe carbon monoxide poisoning may have long-term health problems as a result of their exposure. Even minor and moderate cases of carbon monoxide poisoning indicate an underlying CO hazard in the patient’s home, work or recreational environment.

How can carbon monoxide poisoning be prevented?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable. To make sure that you and your family are safe from carbon monoxide poisoning:

Where should carbon monoxide detectors be placed?

A CO alarm should be centrally located outside each sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. Each CO alarm should be located on the wall, ceiling or other location as specified in the manufacturer’s installation instructions that come with the unit.

For added protection, install additional CO detectors in each separate bedroom, and on every level of your home.

Carbon monoxide detectors wear out. They need to be replaced about every five years. Expiration dates are provided by the manufacturer.

What are the Vermont rules about carbon monoxide detectors?

The Vermont Department of Public Safety, Division of Fire Safety, has developed rules about carbon monoxide detection and prevention based on requirements established by the Vermont Legislature during its 2005 session. These rules focus on homes and buildings that have sleeping rooms.

You can find information about carbon monoxide requirements at the Division of Fire Safety website.

What data are included about carbon monoxide in Vermont’s Tracking program?

Vermont Tracking data related to carbon monoxide poisoning includes:

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