Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is dangerous!  Carbon monoxide poisoning from the use of fuel burning appliances kills at least 200 people each year and sends more than 5,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment. Others die from Carbon monoxide produced while burning charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent. Still others die from Carbon monoxide produced by cars unintentionally left running in attached garages.

What is Carbon Monoxide?  Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and colorless gas which could be created whenever a fuel (such as wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas, kerosene, etc.) is burning.

How can I protect myself and my family from Carbon Monoxide?  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector per household, near the sleeping area. Detectors are best placed approximately 5 feet from the floor.  Additional detectors on every level of a home and in every bedroom provide extra protection. Choose an Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) listed detector that sounds an audible alarm. You can choose a model that is wired to your home's electrical system, a model which plugs into a standard electrical outlet, or a battery-operated model. Battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors continue to protect even in the event of a power outage. Hardwired AC models, although more costly and difficult to install, reduce the expense of battery replacement but do not offer protection during power outages. Hardwired AC models with battery back-up offer double protection.

Gas appliances should be serviced yearly by a qualified service technician. Stove burners should be cleaned and adjusted to minimize the amount of carbon monoxide produced. Before making changes to a house that might affect the ventilation of fuel-burning appliances, contact your heating contractor. When replacing heating appliances, purchase appliances designed to reduce dangers from carbon monoxide, such as sealed combustion gas furnaces, direct vent gas fireplaces, or induced draft gas water heaters. Electric-powered heating appliances do not produce carbon monoxide.

If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, first make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector. The latest generation of carbon monoxide detectors listed with UL will be marked "carbon monoxide detector" in a contrasting color on the cover. Some detectors feature a warning alarm which will sound before the full (continuous) alarm. If your detector is in warning alarm, carbon monoxide is beginning to accumulate. It is important to locate and eliminate the source of CO before the condition worsens. A trained HVAC contractor or appliance service technician can inspect your home to determine the cause of carbon monoxide build-up.

If your detector is in full alarm and any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of poisoning, call 9-1-1 immediately! Remember that infants and children may be affected more quickly by carbon monoxide. Be sure to see if they are exhibiting symptoms. If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air, turn off all potential sources of carbon monoxide and have a qualified technician inspect your combustion appliances.

In addition to installing carbon monoxide detectors, consumers should regularly inspect and service potential problem sources of carbon monoxide.

You may be exposed when:

  • You leave your car, truck or van running.
  • You burn charcoal, alcohol or gasoline in an enclosed tent, camper or room.
  • You smoke a cigar, cigarette or pipe. 
  • Your home contains a malfunctioning or incorrectly vented hot water heater, furnace, space heater, fireplace or stove.

How does Carbon Monoxide harm you?  Quite simply, carbon monoxide prevents oxygen from being used by your body. Carbon monoxide is poisonous and can harm your central nervous system.

Who is at risk?  Everyone is at risk of being poisoned by carbon monoxide. However, individuals with existing health problems such as heart and lung disease and the elderly are especially vulnerable. Infants, children and pregnant women are also at risk.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?  Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning mimics many common illnesses, such as the flu and food poisoning.  Common symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning include:

·        Headaches

·        Loss of hearing

·        Dizziness

·        Blurry vision

·        Weakness

·        Vomiting

·        Nausea

·        Disorientation

·        Rapid heartbeat

·        Seizures

·        Loss of consciousness

·        Coma

·        Cardiac arrest

·        Respiratory failure

Symptoms listed above, obviously, do not always indicate carbon monoxide poisoning.  However, they are listed to provide citizens of Mason City with information on carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms.   Always check with your doctor.

What to do if you suspect Carbon Monoxide is present in your home:  


CALL - If your detector alarm sounds and you are experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home immediately and call your local emergency services number or 911 if it is available in your area.

CHECK - If your detector alarm sounds and no one has symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: First check the detector, push the reset button or the “Peak” reading button. Get fresh air to the building, and check for sources of carbon monoxide. Turn off any suspicious or obviously malfunctioning appliances or other sources of combustion. Levels of CO higher than those measured outside warrants further investigation, though may not be an immediate health risk. Contact a certified service or repair company who can test for CO with proper test instruments.

ALWAYS - If you think you have  symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and you do not have a  detector, leave your home, and call your emergency services number or 911 immediately!


CO detectors & properly maintained combustion appliances can save lives!  Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors can help alert you to increased levels of carbon monoxide in your home, but they are not foolproof!

The Mason City Fire Department has prepared a brochure on carbon monoxide which has additional information.