Carbon Monoxide Safety

Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas that is undetectable by humans because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. In high enough concentrations, it can harm or kill a person in minutes. Read how we’re working to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Man starting Generator

Carbon monoxide is produced by burning fuel in everyday items such as cars and small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces. Despite the prevalence of this threat, the means of carbon monoxide detection are often overlooked, leaving many unprotected.

According to a consumer insights study conducted by UL Standards & Engagement, 36% of U.S. adults do not have any type of carbon monoxide alarm in their home, and 62% feel that they are not at risk of carbon monoxide exposure or poisoning at home. Further, nearly half (46%) of travelers do not worry about carbon monoxide exposure when staying in hotels and rental properties because they trust that alarms are installed.

What is carbon monoxide poisoning? 

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include nausea, dizziness, headaches, chest pain, and loss of consciousness. 

What are the risks associated with CO poisoning? 

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning kills at least 420 people and sends more than 100,000 to hospital emergency departments in the U.S. each year. The numbers may be higher, as symptoms – which include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and confusion – are easily misdiagnosed.
  • The long-term exposure consequences include memory loss, personality changes, heart abnormalities, mental capacity degradation, and Parkinson’s Disease.
  • Portable generators are a leading cause of unintentional CO poisoning.

How can I reduce the risk of CO poisoning? 

You can reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning by installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home, packing portable CO detectors when traveling, and exercising extreme caution when using products that generate carbon monoxide, including furnaces, kerosene heaters, vehicles, stoves and gas ranges, portable generators, pool heaters, and more. Heating systems, chimneys, gas appliances, and other common emitters of CO should be checked annually. Devices like portable generators and vehicles should never be operated in enclosed spaces. 

How can standards help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

UL standards help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by ensuring that products are designed and constructed according to rigorous safety requirements. UL Standards & Engagement has more than 75 standards in its catalog that address carbon monoxide safety in residential, commercial, and industrial environments. These include standards for detectors and alarm systems, home heating and cooking appliances, and fuel-burning industrial products like portable generators. Some of these standards are summarized below:

  • UL 2034, the Standard for Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms, features performance requirements to ensure fixed and portable alarms are functional and reliable in detecting dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. The standard requires alarms to report before CO reaches levels that cause a loss of ability to react.
  • UL 2201, the Standard for Safety for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Emission Rate of Portable Generators, is the first standard for portable generators to address the mitigation of carbon monoxide emissions. In order to conform to the standard, a portable generator must limit the active CO emissions produced while its engine is running, and it must also be equipped with a sensor that will shut the unit off if it detects a high output or accumulation of carbon monoxide.
  • ANSI/CAN/UL 1008M Standard for Transfer Switch Equipment, Meter-Mounted, provides requirements for equipment that enables homeowners to safely connect portable generator power to a home at the meter base outdoors, greatly reducing the likelihood of individuals running generators indoors in the event of a power outage.

Related Resources

Fast Facts About Carbon Monoxide Safety

More than one-third of U.S. homes have no CO detection: One-third (36%) of U.S. adults – 86.2 million individuals – have no means of detecting CO leaks in their homes. Further, many Americans are confused about what counts as detection. Nearly three in ten (29%) U.S. consumers — more than an estimated 69 million Americans — say they do not need (17%) or are unsure (12%) if they need a CO alarm in the home if smoke alarms are present. (Source: UL Standards & Engagement)

Generator owners do not feel at risk — or know there is one: An estimated 29 million Americans own a portable generator, primarily to deal with power outages in extreme weather. Even though portable generators are a leading cause of CO deaths, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission data, the ULSE survey found that 62% said they do not feel that they or their household are at risk of CO exposure or poisoning from their generator, and another 23% of generator owners did not realize that these appliances are a potential source of CO. (Source: UL Standards & Engagement)

Assumed CO protection in public places: Despite an inconsistent patchwork of requirements and codes across states, Americans are largely not concerned with CO in public settings like churches, daycares, restaurants, and hotels. Nearly half (46%) of travelers do not worry about CO exposure when staying in hotels and rental properties because they assume CO alarms are installed, and another 44% say they believe every state has laws that require alarms. (Source: UL Standards & Engagement)

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