Emissions from certain kerosene heaters caused air pollution levels significantly higher than government health standards--high enough to cause breathing problems and changes in heart rhythm for some consumers, according to preliminary research results reported by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

All four commissioners expressed concern about the staff report, presented at a hearing Thursday. "If your figures are correct, they are very disturbing," Commissioner Stuart M. Statler said.

Peter Preuss, director of the agency's health sciences division, defended the accuracy of the research but cautioned against drawing conclusions based on preliminary work.

In the preliminary report, the staff said emissions of carbon monoxide were up to three times higher than government standards in some of the tests. Nitrogen dioxide emissions were even higher in some cases, while carbon dioxide emissions were slightly above government air standards.

Final results from the testing won't be ready until June, Preuss said. Meanwhile, the staff is working with industry representatives who also have been researching the emissions from kerosene heaters and have concluded that they are within government standards when heaters are used properly.

Officials from both the industry and the CPSC said their findings varied because of basic differences in the amount of ventilation in the housing model used. The industry recommends that consumers use the heaters only in rooms with adequate ventilation, keeping a window open if necessary.