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Carbon monoxide is hard to detect because it has no smell, taste or colour. This also means that it is easy to inhale without realising.

Carbon monoxide is produced when fuels such as gas, oil, coal and wood do not burn fully. Many household appliances use these fuels, including:

  • boilers

  • gas fires

  • central heating systems

  • water heaters

  • cookers

The buildup of carbon monoxide can also be as a result of any of the following:

  • indoor use of a barbecue grill or outdoor heater

  • using cooking appliances for heating

  • enclosed or unventilated spaces – burning fuel in an enclosed or unventilated space, where there are no air vents, windows or doors left open or ajar

  • faulty or damaged appliances – heating or cooking

  • heating appliance not maintained or serviced

  • badly ventilated rooms – sealed windows, no air bricks

  • blocked chimney or flue caused by birds nests, fallen bricks, growing vegetation, bad DIY

  • poor or improper installation or use of appliances – such as cooking and heating devices

  • running engines such as cars or lawnmowers in a garage

  • old appliances that have not been serviced or looked after properly

  • paint fumes – fumes from cleaning fluids and paint removers that contain methylene chloride (dichloromethane) can also cause CO poisoning

Danger signs

Danger signs that CO may be leaking include:

  • yellow or orange flames where there should normally be blue ones

  • sooty stains on the walls around fires and water heaters. You could also be poisoned by CO if you share a wall or chimney with a house that has a CO leak, even if your own house does not have one.

If you suspect that an appliance is leaking carbon monoxide:

  • switch off the appliance and do not re-use until you’ve taken action

  • call gas emergency freephone number 0800 111 999 for gas appliances

  • call Oftec 0845 658 5080 for oil burning appliances

  • call HETAS 0845 634 5626 for solid fuel burning appliances

  • open all doors and windows to ventilate the room – do not sleep in it

  • Visit your GP urgently and tell him/her that you believe your symptoms could be carbon monoxide poisoning and request either a blood and/or breath sample.

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