Kent Fire & Rescue Service
Carbon monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide is a gas you cannot see, smell or taste. If you breathe enough of it, it can cause permanent heart, lung, or brain damage or even kill!

What is it?

Carbon monoxide can be given off by any appliance which burns a fossil fuel such as gas, coal or oil. It can enter your room if your appliance is faulty, or if the room is not properly ventilated, or the chimney or flue is blocked.

To make sure your appliances are safe, have them properly installed and regularly maintained.

Gas appliances must be serviced by engineers who are members of the Gas Safe Register.

Danger signs

Signs pointing to incomplete burning are:

  • Gas flames that burn orange or yellow instead of blue
  • Stains, soot or discolouring around a fire or water heater
  • An unusual smell when the appliance is on
  • Solid fuel appliances that burn slowly or go out

What to do

  • Have your appliances regularly serviced by a qualified, Gas Safe Registered engineer
  • Make sure your home is properly ventilated - never block vents
  • Make sure all chimneys and flues are regularly swept and kept clear
  • If you are buying a carbon monoxide detector look out for one which complies with BS 7860:1996 and carries the British Standard Kite Mark, but never rely only on these devices

The effect on you

Carbon monoxide is absorbed into the bloodstream 250 times quicker than normal air.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are similar to a cold or flu and can include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Short-term memory loss
  • Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
  • Shortness of breath and chest pain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Palpitations
  • Disorientation
  • Unconsciousness

Sudden, acute exposure is a form of suffocation. It can start with headaches and weakness, dizziness and breathlessness at low levels. This may then be followed by drowsiness, collapse and coma, and eventual death. People who recover from CO poisoning may have long term problems, including difficulties with concentration and memory.

A simple blood test can find out whether someone is suffering from CO exposure. If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected get the victim into fresh air quickly.

Carbon monoxide detectors

Ideally, you should put a carbon monoxide detector in or near every room with a heating or cooking appliance. They can be battery operated or mains powered by plugging direct into a mains socket.

Carbon monoxide is as heavy as air but when it is released with warm air, it will initially rise.

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