Man pressing the test button of a carbon monoxide alarm

Carbon monoxide: an underestimated deadly gas in France

Exposure to carbon monoxide is an important but underestimated health problem. However, this gas is one of the main causes of accidental poisoning in the home, as it can cause serious cardiovascular problems and even death. Every year, more than a hundred deaths are reported in France as a result of inhalation.

Odourless, colourless and tasteless, carbon monoxide (CO) can only be detected by using a suitable detector. These detectors warn residents of the risk of CO poisoning in the same way as smoke detectors. However, unlike smoke detectors, the carbon monoxide detectors are not very common in our homes.

How is carbon monoxide produced?

CO is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels, such as natural gas, oil, gasoline and wood. Indoor concentrations of carbon monoxide are generally low, however, dangerous levels can result from persistent sources and poor ventilation.

Indoors, carbon monoxide is mainly emitted from poorly maintained or poorly ventilated appliances such as ovens, fireplaces and gas cookers. Inappropriate indoor use of appliances such as stoves and barbecues also contribute to high CO levels.

Last but not least, carbon monoxide can also travel inside our homes. A car with the engine running near a window or in the garage is a major source of CO in the air in a house.

What are the health effects of CO?

Health effects The effects of carbon monoxide depend on the duration and level of exposure to the gas:

  • At lower levels, symptoms may include headaches, fatigue, vomiting, nausea and dizziness.
  • Continued exposure to moderate to high levels can lead to disorientation, convulsions, loss of consciousness and cardiorespiratory arrest.

Anatomically, carbon monoxide displaces oxygen in the blood to form carboxyhaemoglobin (COHb). Increased concentrations of COHb decrease the oxygen content of the blood and thus compromise oxygen delivery to body tissues. Non-fatal poisoning is generally associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline.

France 3 Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur | Health: the dangers of carbon monoxide

How to protect yourself from carbon monoxide?

Poisoning can be prevented by removing sources of carbon monoxide emissions and by using carbon monoxide detectors. Regular maintenance of fuel-burning appliances and ventilation can also protect against carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide detectors are available in supermarkets and are easy to install. For safety, they should be installed near sleeping areas and on every level of the home.