Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel. Improperly ventilated appliances and engines, particularly in a tightly sealed or enclosed space, may allow carbon monoxide to accumulate to dangerous levels.
Hemoglobin in the red blood cells carries oxygen to cells. Carbon monoxide is a very aggressive molecule: it knocks oxygen off hemoglobin and binds very tightly. As a result, less oxygen is transported to cells and they ‘suffocate.’
Depending on the degree and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause:
• Permanent brain damage
• Damage to your heart, possibly leading to life-threatening cardiac complications
There are common conditions that can cause CO levels to rise quickly:
• Appliance malfunction, i.e. the heat exchanger on your furnace cracks
• Vent, flue, or chimney is blocked by debris or even snow
• Fireplace, wood burning stove, charcoal grill or other source of burning material that is not properly vented
• Vehicle is left running in an attached garage and carbon monoxide seeps into the house
• Several appliances running at the same time and competing for limited fresh air can be a cause of carbon monoxide buildup. This condition can result in incomplete combustion and produce CO, even if all appliances are in good working condition
Leave the area immediately if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning. Call 911 for help. Do a headcount but do NOT re-enter – emergency responders with respirators will assess and rescue others if needed.
MEDLINE from the US National Library of Medicine.
Update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
With a good carbon monoxide detector there will be plenty of time to evacuate. Install and save lives.