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Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide

What are carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that you can't see, taste, or smell. It interferes with the movement of oxygen throughout the body. At high levels, it can cause you to become unconscious or even die. Lower levels can cause a range of symptoms, such as:

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • fatigue
  • chest pain in people with heart disease

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are sometimes confused with symptoms of the flu or food poisoning. Infants, older adults, and people with anemia, heart, or lung problems can be very sensitive to carbon monoxide.

Nitrogen dioxide is also a gas without color and odor. It irritates the eyes, nose, and throat. It can also cause shortness of breath in a person exposed to high levels of it. Studies show that being exposed to high levels, or to low levels for a long period of time increases the risk of lung infection and disease.

Sources of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are:

  • unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
  • leaky chimneys and furnaces
  • back-drafts from furnaces, gas water heaters, woodstoves, and fireplaces
  • gas stoves
  • second-hand smoke
  • exhaust from cars and trucks in attached garages

How can I help keep my family safe from carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide?

  • Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
  • Make sure that doors in old woodstoves are tight-fitting. Use aged or dried wood only. Chemicals used to pressure-treat wood should never be burned indoors.
  • Install and use an exhaust fan over gas stoves. Make sure it vents outdoors.
  • Open flues (passageway to carry off smoke) when fireplaces are in use.
  • Have a trained contractor inspect, clean, and tune-up furnaces, flues, chimneys, and gas appliances every year. Repair any leaks as soon as you can. Change filters at least once every month during periods of use.
  • Do not keep the car on while inside the garage.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.