The Washington Post

Carbon monoxide poisoning: What you need to know

My colleague Matt Zapotosky is reporting tragic news out of Oxon Hill: five people in a house along Shelby Drive have apparently died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Fire officials told NBC 4 Washington on Tuesday that the carbon monoxide levels found in the home were 550 parts per million. That means the five dead had very little chance against the odorless gas — a level of 150 to 200 ppm is potentially lethal, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Here is more information about carbon monoxide from the commission:

* “Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce CO.”

* “On average, about 170 people in the United States die every year from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products. These products include malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters; engine-powered equipment such as portable generators; fireplaces; and charcoal that is burned in homes and other enclosed areas.”

* “Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:



Shortness of breath



* “High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

Mental confusion


Loss of muscular coordination

Loss of consciousness

Ultimately death”

* “If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, get outside to fresh air immediately. Leave the home and call your fire department to report your symptoms from a neighbor’s home. You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your problems. Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning. If the doctor confirms CO poisoning, make sure a qualified service person checks the appliances for proper operation before reusing them.”

For more information, click here.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.


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