The dangers of carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide Sources
Posted at 7:55 PM, Dec 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-28 11:42:08-05

Carbon monoxide (CO) is odorless and colorless. Montana ranks number 3 among all states for deaths per capita due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Across the nation, more than 400 people die each year due to CO poisoning. In the video above, reporter Maggie Reilly talks with experts about what you should know about this silent killer.

Temperatures are starting to drop this winter season so it’s time for seasonal maintenance on your fireplaces, gas appliances, and carbon monoxide detectors.

If left unchecked, you could be putting you and your family at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. In November 2022, two Cascade County residents died when their RV heater malfunctioned.

Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that is produced when any material containing carbon is burned. Examples are gasoline, oil, kerosene, propane, charcoal, or wood.

If inhaled, carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal. Sources that produce carbon monoxide are devices commonly found in the home or garage including cars, grills, fireplaces, stoves, furnaces, and other gas appliances.

Anyone you know can be affected - just like my sister Karlie was.

“I was really scared at that time. I was nauseous, dizzy, I was vomiting, lightheaded,” Karlie explained.

Karlie Reilly
Karlie survived carbon monoxide poisoning

All were symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. Other symptoms include headache, weakness, upset stomach, chest pain, and confusion. These symptoms are often described as “flu-like.”

Suspecting the cause was carbon monoxide, Karlie had a home inspector come and check out her place. The presence of carbon monoxide was confirmed, and she was able to move out immediately.

Shortly after leaving the home Karlie’s symptoms subsided.

However, not everyone is as lucky as Karlie.

So how exactly does it affect the body?

Within the blood there are red blood cells that contain a protein called hemoglobin. The job of the hemoglobin is to transfer oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. When carbon monoxide is inhaled it binds to the hemoglobin preventing oxygen from binding and therefore cutting off the oxygen supply to the body’s vital organs.

There are many ways to keep you and your family safe from this silent killer.

Firefighter and paramedic for Great Falls Fire Rescue Rocky Vance recommends people have carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.

Rocky Vance
Rocky Vance

Detectors can be on the ceiling or plugged into outlets and are recommend to be on each floor of the home. They have a life span of around 5 to 7 years, so it is important to refer to your specific device’s user manual on how to properly use and maintain your detector.

It’s recommended to change the battery of your device annually and frequently test to make sure the device is functioning properly.

According to the CDC more than 100,000 people in the United States visit the emergency department each year due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Proper preventive devices, equipment maintenance, and education can help.

If you ever have any doubts experts say to play it safe and get of the house. Then call 911 so trained professionals can check for the presence of carbon monoxide building and lingering inside your home.


From the CDC website:

  • Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home. Check or replace the detector’s battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Consider buying a detector with a digital readout. This detector can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your CO detector every five years.
  • Have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
  • If you smell an odor from your gas refrigerator have an expert service it. An odor from your gas refrigerator can mean it could be leaking CO.
  • When you buy gas equipment, buy only equipment carrying the seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories.
  • Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes for appliances, such as a water heater, should go up slightly as they go toward outdoors, as shown below. This prevents CO from leaking if the joints or pipes aren’t fitted tightly.
  • Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause CO to build up inside your home or cabin.
  • Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or something else. This kind of patch can make CO build up in your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a build up of CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal – red, gray, black, or white – gives off CO.
  • Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door, or vent.
  • When using a generator, use a battery-powered or battery backup CO detector in your home.