Understand the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that can't be seen or smelled. It's made when fuels—like gas, kerosene, propane, or wood—are burned. In homes, carbon monoxide can quickly build up from a poorly vented or malfunctioning heater, furnace, range, fuel-powered appliances, or a car left idling in a garage.
Carbon monoxide is the most common cause of deadly poisonings. Wisconsin State law requires carbon monoxide detectors to be placed on each floor level in all Wisconsin homes.
Take Action if Your CO Detector Sounds
- Take immediate action if your CO detector sounds or if you have headaches, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, and/or confusion.
- Get fresh air immediately. Call your local fire department and move everyone outdoors into fresh air.
- Do not re-enter the building until it has been inspected and declared safe.
On average, carbon monoxide poisoning sends about 500 Wisconsinites to the emergency room each year. To protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide, follow these safety tips:
- Make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors. All homes and duplexes in Wisconsin are required to have detectors on every level, including the basement, but not the attic or storage areas. Detectors can be purchased at most hardware stores for $20-50. Daylight Savings Time is a good time each year to replace the batteries in your detector and push the “Test” button to be sure it’s working properly. Replace your detector every five years or according to manufacturer’s instructions.
- Have your furnace or wood-burning stove inspected annually. Hire a professional to make sure it is functionally sound and vents properly outside the home.
- Never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill (gas or charcoal) inside your home or garage. Any heating system that burns fuel produces carbon monoxide. Use a battery-powered detector where you have fuel burning devices but no electric outlets, such as in tents, cabins, and RVs.
- Generators should be run at a safe distance (at least 20 feet) from the home. Never run a generator in the home or garage, or right next to windows or doors.
- Never run a car in an enclosed space. Even with a door or window open, carbon monoxide levels can still build up to an unsafe level.
Data and Resources
- Protecting Your Family from Carbon Monoxide, P-01569 (PDF). Follow these simple tips to protect your family since you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide.
- Use Generators Safely, P-01561 (PDF). Generators produce high levels of CO in their exhaust. If used incorrectly, generators can cause carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shocks, fires, and burns.
- Know the Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, P-01029 (PDF). Post these signs and symptoms around your work or school to know what to look out for.
- What Employers Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide, P-02486 (PDF). This fact sheet offers ideas and strategies for protecting employees and customers from dangerous carbon monoxide.
Ice arena resources
- Ice arena air quality information
- Recommendations for Enclosed Ice Arena Management, P-00067 (PDF)
- Video: Real-time Monitoring of Carbon Monoxide Poisonings in Wisconsin
- Staying Safe from Carbon Monoxide While Boating, P-02211 (PDF) . Review these additional recommendations if you have a fuel-powered boat.
- Safe boating webpage
- Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking Portal: Search our portal for data related to carbon monoxide poisonings in Wisconsin.
- Surveillance Brief, P-01071a (PDF): Learn more about carbon monoxide poisonings in Wisconsin.
For Health Professionals
This is a Wisconsin disease surveillance category II disease:
Carbon Monoxide Resources
- Looking for ways to take action? the Ideas for Taking Action (P-01795) fact sheet contains strategies for addressing carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Do you inspect facilities as part of your public health work? Consider taking What Employers Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide (PDF) along on your next inspection.
- WMJ: Carbon Monoxide Exposure and Poisoning Cases in Wisconsin, 2006-2016
- MMWR: Exposure to Elevated Carbon Monoxide Levels at an Indoor Ice Arena - Wisconsin, 2014
Reportable Condition Information
- DPH/BEOH Memo: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Reporting Requirements 11/7/2018 (PDF)
- DPH/BEOH Memo: New Environmental and Occupational Reportable Conditions 7/11/2018 (PDF)
- Reporting Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Webinar slides (PDF) – 7/10/2018
- EpiNet: Carbon monoxide case definition, P-02192 (PDF)
- EpiNet: Case definition flow chart, P-02192a (PDF)
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