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Carbon Monoxide (CO)

What is carbon monoxide (CO)

CO is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas produced by burning carbon fuels such as propane, natural gas, oil, wood, charcoal, alcohol, kerosene or gasoline. Exposure to CO interferes with the body’s ability to absorb oxygen, which can result in serious illness or death.


What are the sources of CO?

Common sources include gas-fired furnaces, boilers, hot water tanks, stoves, dryers and fireplaces. These items — along with the venting systems and fresh air supply into your home — should be checked at least once a year.

Gas furnace


Gas fireplace


Gas range



What are the symptoms of CO?

Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning look a lot like a flu.

  • headache
  • confusion
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  • vomiting
  • weakness
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  • dizziness
  • chest pain
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As CO builds up in the bloodstream, symptoms change or magnify.

Look out for:

  • increased confusion and drowsiness
  • fast breathing, fast heartbeat, or increased chest pain
  • vision problems
  • seizures
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What to do if you suspect CO poisoning?

If you believe you’re being poisoned by CO, or if your CO detector goes off, turn appliances off and get out of the building, then seek medical attention. If you are unable to leave the dwelling, move next to an open window or an open door. Don’t return to the area until you’re sure it’s safe — if you’re not sure, wait for the fire department or Fortis BC to tell you everything is OK.

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How to prevent CO exposure

Schedule an annual appliance inspection

Contact a licensed gas contractor to take a look at your gas appliances (your stove, furnace, fireplace, etc) and venting systems to confirm they’re in good working order. Find a licensed gas contractor near you.

Find a contractor

Install a Canadian-certified CO alarm

Look for a certification mark from a certification body accredited by the Standards Council of Canada. Check for certification/approval marks that are acceptable in BC:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions that in most cases say to put it in the hallway outside your bedrooms and on each level of your home.
  • If your alarm isn’t hardwired, check your batteries twice a year. And if it’s more than seven years old (check the end of like date), get a new one. Units with sealed lithium batteries require no battery replacement or maintenance.

Never ignore any activation of a CO alarm

Know the difference between an actual alarm sound versus the low battery or end of life warning. Never ignore any activation of a CO alarm. Although the alarm can be triggered by gases or conditions other than CO, an activation must be investigated to determine the cause.

Never operate portable fuel-burning devices indoor

Never operate portable fuel-burning devices such as camp stoves, barbecues or generators indoors, in closed spaces or near open windows.


CO Awareness Week

November 1 to 7, 2019 was Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week in B.C. During this time, fire departments, life safety educators, government and industry worked together to teach people about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, and how to avoid exposure to this colourless and odourless gas.

The effects can be devastating, and every year people die or are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. This can be prevented by having all fuel-burning appliances in your home serviced each yer and having functioning CO alarms that will signal an alert when the gas is present.

If you are a fire and life safety educator or work for a fire department, use the digital resources and campaign toolkit on this site to raise awareness in your community about staying safe from CO.

Download Media Kit