Carbon Monoxide Safety

Know the Symptoms, Prevent Hazards

Learn about carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and how to stay safe. If your CO alarm sounds, go outside and call 911.

Dangers of CO

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 20,000 people are taken to an emergency room and over 400 people die every year from accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Because CO is an odorless and colorless gas, some people don't realize that they're suffering from CO poisoning until they become very ill. Prolonged exposure to CO can even cause death. Here, we'll talk about what causes CO poisoning, symptoms of CO poisoning, and how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

What causes CO poisoning?

CO may be released as the result of improper functioning of heaters, boilers, fireplaces, stoves, or any other gas or fuel-powered equipment. When CO is released in an enclosed area such as a home, it may result in CO poisoning.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

Symptoms may occur immediately or gradually. Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms, including headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, and loss of muscle control. Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to serious illness and even death. If you experience these symptoms after being in an enclosed area, go out into fresh air immediately. Seek emergency medical help if symptoms do not quickly improve.

How can I prevent CO poisoning?

The most important thing you can do is properly maintain heaters, boilers, fireplaces, stoves, and other gas or fuel-powered equipment. Have chimneys checked or cleaned every year as a blockage can cause CO to build up indoors. Be sure there is proper ventilation when fireplaces, wood stoves or other air consuming devices are operated at the same time as your regular heating system. After a snowstorm, clear snow from any outdoor vents. Portable generators should only be used outdoors and away from any windows, doors and vents.

CO alarms are an important second line of defense. New York State law requires CO alarms in residential and commercial buildings. These inexpensive devices will sound a loud alarm in the case of dangerous levels of CO. Combined CO and smoke alarms are available. If an alarm goes off, get out of your house and call 911 immediately. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends placing a CO alarm in every area of your home. If just one alarm is installed, it should be placed near the sleeping rooms of the house. Be sure to check the batteries of your CO alarm at least every six months.

Other ways to prevent CO poisoning include:

  • Never use a gas oven or range to heat a room. This can deplete oxygen from the air and cause asphyxiation or severe carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Ensure that any natural gas-burning appliances are installed, maintained and used safely and according to manufacturer instructions. Gas appliances should be checked by a qualified technician periodically to ensure that they are working properly.
  • Do not allow vehicles, lawnmowers, snow blowers, or any gasoline-powered engine to idle in a garage attached to a house, even with the door open. CO can drift into the living space and create a hazardous situation.

Note: PSEG Long Island does not sell or install CO alarms. The Consumer Products Safety Commission and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) can help you make an informed decision. Look for UL or nationally recognized testing laboratory certification on any alarm you purchase, and carefully follow the instructions for placement, use and maintenance.