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Carbon monoxide poisoning

Gas fire, potential source of carbon monoxide


Exposure to carbon monoxide (CO), a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas, causes approximately 40 accidental deaths* every year in England and Wales and 200 cases of recorded non-fatal injury. Many more people are likely to be exposed and suffer from CO poisoning but be unaware of the cause. As a result, the impact on health may well be underestimated.


CO is produced when fossil fuels such as gas, coal, coke and oil and other fuels such as wood and charcoal burn without enough air. Incorrectly installed, poorly maintained or poorly ventilated cooking and heating devices are the main sources. Exposure to high indoor levels can be fatal, while exposure to lower levels can result in symptoms that resemble flu, viral infections or food poisoning. Headache, tiredness, difficulty in thinking clearly and feeling sick are the most common symptoms. Drowsiness, dizziness, shortness of breath and chest pains may also be experienced. Prolonged exposure to low levels of CO over a long period of time can cause serious harm to health, often leading to lasting neurological damage in victims.

It is important to have all cooking and heating appliances which use fossil fuels (and wood) installed and serviced regularly by a suitably qualified, reputable and registered engineer. Rooms in which these appliances are used must be adequately ventilated. Chimneys and flues should be kept clear and swept from top to bottom at least once a year by a qualified sweep.


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