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What You Should Know About Carbon Monoxide in Memphis


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of solid, liquid, and gaseous fuels. In technical terms, it is produced by the incomplete oxidation of carbon in combustion.

NOTE: CO is NOT the “gas” people sometimes smell in their houses. That odor is actually sulfur. Sulfur is added to natural gas (which is also odorless) to alert you to a natural gas leak. If you ever smell this odor in your home, evacuate and call MLG&W’s Emergency Line immediately at (901) 528-4465.

Why Is CO Dangerous To My Health?

Acute effects are due to the formation of carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) in the blood, which inhibits oxygen intake. At even low levels, symptoms similar to the flu are reported. In one study of randomly tested patients in an Emergency Room complaining of flu-like symptoms, almost 25% had CO poisoning. At moderate concentrations, angina, impaired vision, and reduced brain function may result. At higher concentrations, CO exposure can be fatal. 40,000 people received medical treatment in the US last year for CO poisoning. CO poisoning is the 1 cause of poison-related deaths and injuries on the world. (JAMA, 10/6/04)

10 Common Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  1. Headache
  2. Fatigue, Weakness
  3. Muscle Pain, Cramps
  4. Nausea, Vomiting
  5. Upset Stomach, Diarrhea
  6. Confusion, Memory Loss
  7. Dizziness, In coordination
  8. Chest Pain, Rapid Heartbeat
  9. Difficult or Shallow Breathing
  10. Changes in Sensitivity of Hearing, Vision, Smell, Taste or Touch

Do I Have Anything in My Home That Produces CO?

You might. Any appliance fueled with natural gas, liquefied petroleum (LP gas), oil, kerosene, coal, or wood produces CO. Appliances include not only furnaces, but also boilers, water heaters, gas stoves, gas logs and unvented gas appliances. Burning charcoal produces CO. Running cars produce CO. If you have an attached garage and run a car in it, CO is likely entering your living space (even with the garage door open). Even electric ovens in self-cleaning mode produce CO.

What Might Cause Unacceptable Levels of CO in My Home?

The level of CO produced and the integrity of the method by which the CO exits and/or enters the living space determines whether CO levels will become unacceptable. Theses issues generally break down into these categories:

Excess Production of CO from Appliances:

Any (old or new) dirty, faulty, poorly adjusted, inefficient or improperly installed gas appliance can emit more CO than the venting mechanisms installed to remove it from the home were designed to handle. Old and new unvented appliances and gas logs can also emit unsafe levels of CO directly into the living space. Even when an appliance appears to be working properly, it may be emitting excess CO. The only way to test this is with the proper equipment and training. It cannot be done by sight, touch or smell. You cannot do it yourself.

Failure of Venting Mechanisms:

On the other hand, your appliances may be emitting CO within acceptable levels (provided they were properly vented). However, due to a failure in the venting mechanism, the CO level emitted becomes unsafe. For example: the flue may be improperly sized, blocked, disconnected or leaking – forcing high levels of CO back into the home (dangerous) rather than outside (acceptable). Something as simple as a bird’s nest or other debris can block enough of a venting mechanism to create a dangerous situation. Many companies install new gas appliances without investigating whether the venting method requires changing too.

Issues Affecting the Pressure in the House:

Imagine your Memphis house as a living thing that breathes, because it does. All the air inside your house comes from somewhere. Every day, air comes in and out from: your dryer, kitchen vent hood, bathroom exhaust fans, the opening and closing of doors and central air conditioning and heating ducts. When your house is negative, it must draw air from every available place. For example, even with your garage door open, your house might take all the available air out of your garage. This is why it is dangerous to start a car indoors – even with the garage door open.

Air Flow Issues, Stove Exhaust Hoods and Attic Fans Also Impact the CO Levels in Your Home.

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