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Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas usually produced by combustion (the burning of fuel; e.g., gasoline, natural gas, oil, wood).

The most common sources of carbon monoxide are motor vehicles, furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces, woodstoves and various internal combustion engines.

Carbon monoxide is dangerous when inhaled because carbon monoxide molecules bond with hemoglobin in the blood over 200 times more easily than oxygen molecules. Oxygen is vital to proper functioning of the major organs and muscles of the body. When carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood, the body is deprived of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can cause alteration or loss of consciousness, organ damage, brain damage, coma and death.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, stuffiness, fatigue, dizziness, and drowsiness. Because these symptoms are the same as for colds and flu, carbon monoxide poisoning is often not diagnosed, but mistakenly attributed to cold or flu.

The symptoms of moderate carbon monoxide poisoning include those of mild poisoning plus alteration or loss of consciousness.

The symptoms of severe carbon monoxide poisoning include those of mild and moderate poisoning plus cardiovascular problems, seizure, coma and death.

Common Causes

The most common causes of carbon monoxide exposure are inadequate air supply to combustion appliances, improperly installed combustion appliances, improperly maintained combustion appliances, improperly vented combustion appliances, defective motor vehicle exhaust systems, and idling automobiles in garages.


To help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning: Don’t block air supply to combustion appliances. Don’t do home remodeling without taking air supply and exhaust venting into consideration. Use professional installers and service technicians. Don’t operate attic fans with windows and doors closed (because air can be sucked down the exhaust vents of the combustion appliances, drawing carbon monoxide into the living quarters – “backdrafting”). Make sure that all combustion appliances are vented properly. Install carbon monoxide detectors.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed at eye level in all bedrooms, the main living space, and in the room housing the combustion appliances. A detector sould be placed in the kitchen if the stove is natural gas fired. The detectors should be placed at eye level because: (1) carbon monoxide is generally dispersed throughout the space rather than concentrating at the ceilings or on the floor; and (2) you are not as likely to forget about replacing the batteries, or the detector when it becomes outdated.

Warning signs of potential carbon monoxide exposure

Odor: Although carbon monoxide is itself odorless, combustion and incomplete combustion do create odors. Incomplete combustion produces an odor of aldehyde – which is pungent and is sometimes mistaken for the smell of natural gas.

Symptoms: As discussed above.

Frequent pilot light outages. Continuing pilot light outages may signal improper operation of the combustion appliance – which may involve incomplete combustion and thus carbon monoxide.

Abnormal flames: Yellow, rather than blue, flames may be a sign of improper combustion.

White powdery buildup on vents and the heat exchanger inside the combustion appliance: Improper combustion or venting may produce a white powdery substance that looks like laundry detergent.

Soot: Improper combustion may produce black soot.

What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide exposure

Shut down the probable source of the carbon monoxide if it is safe and easy to do. Get out and get fresh air. Get checked immediately at a hospital and have your blood tested for carbon monoxide saturation. Consider calling 911 rather than driving to the hospital, or have someone else drive you to the hospital. Have your home tested by the fire department before the carbon monoxide dissipates. Have your combustion appliances and your HVAC system tested by a professional HVAC company.

Consult with an experienced carbon monoxide injury lawyer

An experienced attorney is especially important in carbon monoxide poisoning cases. Attorney Mac Hester has the knowledge of the science and the experience in carbon monoxide cases to effectively handle your carbon monoxide case.

Call us today for a free consultation.

Mac Hester is an experienced trial lawyer. He has litigated and tried personal injury and commercial law cases in South Carolina and Colorado since 1986. He has also handled appeals in the Supreme Court of South Carolina and the Supreme Court of Colorado.

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