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Carbon Monoxide and Health Effects

Exposure to Carbon Monoxide - CO and health effects.

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Carbon monoxide - CO - is an odorless, tasteless, colorless and toxic gas.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning symptoms

Low to moderate poisoning

  • headache
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • dizziness

Severe poisoning

  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • loss of muscle coordination
  • unconsciousness

Carbon monoxide is a by-product from combustion processes. Any combustion process, fuel burning appliance, vehicle or other device has the potential to produce toxic carbon monoxide gas.

Carbon monoxide is dangerous because it inhibits the blood's ability to carry oxygen to vital organs such as the heart and brain. Inhaled CO will combine with the oxygen carrying hemoglobin in the blood and will form carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) which is not usable for oxygen transport.

Health effects of Carbon Monoxide

CO Concentration
0.5 600 1000 2000
1 200 600 1600
2 100 300 1000
4 50 150 400
6 25 120 200
8 252) 100 150

1) ppm - parts per million - is defined as the mass of the component in solution divided by the total mass of the solution multiplied by 106 (one million)

2) The maximum exposure allowed by OSHA in the workplace over an eight hour period is 35 ppm.

3) Typical sickness symptoms are mild headache, fatigue, nausea and dizziness.

4) A CO concentration of 12-13000 ppm is deadly after 1-3 minutes. A CO concentration of 1600 ppm is deadly after one hour.

Carbon monoxide - dangerous health effects vs exposure time diagram

Concentration of
CO in air
Inhalation TimeToxic Symptoms
9 Short term exposure ASHRAE recommended maximum allowable concentration in living area.
35 8 hours The maximum exposure allowed by OSHA in the workplace over an eight hour period.
200 2-3 hours Slight headache, tiredness, fatigue, nausea and dizziness.
400 1-2 hours Serious headache-other symptoms intensify.
Life threatening after 3 hours.
800 45 minutes Dizziness, nausea and convulsions.
Unconscious within 2 hours.
Death after 2-3 hours.
1600 20 minutes Headache, dizziness and nausea.
Death within 1 hour.
3200 5-10 minutes Headache, dizziness, nausea.
Death within 1 hour.
6400 1-2 minutes Headache, dizziness, nausea.
Death within 25-30 minutes.
12800 1-3 minutes Death within 1-3 minutes
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