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General information on carbon monoxide

Coal fire

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas produced when fossil fuels burn without enough air. Exposure to high levels can be lethal, causing approximately 40 accidental deaths* every year in England and Wales. At lower levels it may produce symptoms which resemble flu or food poisoning, such as headaches, tiredness, difficulty in thinking clearly and feeling sick.

A major source of exposure to carbon monoxide is from faulty, incorrectly installed, or poorly ventilated, cooking or heating appliances which use fossil fuels (such as gas, oil and coal). It is important to have all cooking and heating appliances that use fossil fuels installed and serviced regularly by a suitably qualified, reputable and registered engineer (see below), and to make sure that rooms in which they are used are adequately ventilated.

Fitting an audible carbon monoxide alarm that meets British or European Standards (BS Kitemark or EN 50291) will help to protect you from exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide. The alarm may not go off if you are being exposed to lower levels of carbon monoxide so it should not be used as a substitute for regular servicing of appliances.

If you think you are being exposed to carbon monoxide, you should stop using all your heating and cooking appliances. Move away from the source of exposure (for example a faulty domestic appliance) to a well-ventilated area, open your windows and move outside. When people are removed from the source of carbon monoxide exposure, their symptoms usually subside.

If you think you have been exposed to carbon monoxide and feel unwell or are worried call NHSDirect on 0845 46 47, or in an emergency call 999.

Installation and servicing of appliances


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* (range 25-45 between 2006-2011) Source - Office for National Statistics 2012