Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide is potentially fatal and even low-levels of the poison can cause lasting damage to your health. You can't smell it, see it or taste it, but it could be there now.

Statistics from the All-Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group found that on average, Carbon Monoxide poisoning kills 40 people per year and 200 hospitalisations each year in England and Wales.

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It is estimated that around 4,000 people attend accident and emergency departments in England each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Although most of the 4,000 people would not be sick enough to be admitted to hospital, it is known that long-term exposure is associated with neurological effects - such as having difficulties in concentrating.

Since October 2015 it is now a legal requirement for all private sector landlords to install carbon monoxide alarms in the rooms considered most at risk from high levels of carbon monoxide and to check the alarms are in working order at the start of each new tenancy.

Over the past year Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has received 146 calls relating to carbon monoxide which is a significant reduction (69 fewer incidents) on the previous year.  Gas boilers, stoves and heating appliances, solid fuel/wood burners and open fires pose a real danger if they are not properly maintained and or become defective.

For gas appliance maintenance always use a Gas safe registered engineer, for information on having your chimney swept or wood burner flu cleaned see our page on chimney fires which details the importance of getting it swept more often then perhaps you think it needs.

Cornwall fire and rescue are asking people to be aware of this silent killer and to think about purchasing a Carbon monoxide detector for your home and testing it regularly and keeping it well maintained (by refering to the manufacturers guidelines).

Our latest campaign is asking all camping and caravan sites in Cornwall to sign up to the Carbon Monoxide Aware Register to help us raise more awareness of the potential dangers of the poisonous gas that many people do not realise are there. 

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless, poisonous gas produced by incomplete burning of carbon-based fuels, including gas, oil, wood and coal. Carbon-based fuels are safe to use, it is only when the fuel does not burn properly that excess CO is produced, which is poisonous.When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues, and organs.

You can't see it, taste it or smell it but CO can kill quickly without warning.

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can mimic many common ailments and may easily be confused with food poisoning, viral infections, flu or simple tiredness.

The most common Symptoms to look out for include:

  • headache,
  • feeling sick (nausea) and dizziness,
  • you may also feel tired and confused, and
  • some people are sick (vomit) and have abdominal pain.  

The symptoms of CO poisoning can resemble those of food poisoning and the flu because they have similar symptoms. However, unlike flu, CO poisoning does not cause a high temperature.

Symptoms that may come on later include:

  • confusion,
  • loss of memory, and
  • problems with co-ordination.

For more information visit NHS direct or telephone 0845 4647.

If you suspect you have carbon monoxide poisoning, don't hesitate to visit your General Practitioner (GP) as soon as possible. Diagnosing carbon monoxide poisoning is not easy because it simulates many other conditions, so do say what you think is wrong.

Ask for either a blood and/or breath sample to be taken without delay. That's because your body's carbon monoxide level will reduce the longer you are away from the contaminated environment, making it harder to detect.

If you suspect that someone is suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and / or is unconscious within their home, dial 999 from outside the property and ask for the fire service and ambulance.  The fire and rescue service will ventilate and monitor CO levels on their arrival.

Do not enter the property unless it has been fully ventilated by the fire and rescue service.

If you think you are suffering from the effects of CO poisoning evacuate your property immediately and seek help and medical advice immediately.  

  • Make sure appliances are installed and operated according to the manufacturer's instructions and local building regulations. Most appliances should be installed by qualified professionals. Have the heating system professionally inspected and serviced annually to ensure proper operation. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for blockages, corrosion, partial and complete disconnections, and loose connections.
  • Never service fuel-burning appliances without proper knowledge, skill and tools. Always refer to the owner’s manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
  • Never operate a portable generator or any other petrol/diesel engine-powered tool either in or near an enclosed space such as a garage, house, or other building. Even with open doors and windows, these spaces can trap CO and allow it to quickly build to lethal levels.
  • Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current British or European safety standards. A CO alarm can provide some added protection, but it is no substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that can produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home.
  • Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
  • Never burn charcoal inside a home, garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
  • Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not cover the bottom of natural gas or propane ovens with aluminum foil. Doing so blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and can produce CO.
  • During home renovations, ensure that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by tarps or debris. Make sure appliances are in proper working order when renovations are complete.

Please see below some additional safety advice from

For more information on carbon monoxide visit: