CPSC staff is currently participating in voluntary standards activities related to improving the reliability and performance of carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. CO alarms are life safety devices to warn consumers of the accumulation of potentially hazardous levels of CO in their home before their ability to react has been compromised. CO alarms are not intended to protect consumers against low-level CO exposures.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no smell, color or taste. Burning any fuel, such as gas, oil, wood, or coal, produces CO, so that any fuel-burning appliance is a potential CO source. From 1999 to 2002, there were an average annual estimated 141 unintentional non-fire CO poisoning deaths associated with consumer products. Most consumer product-related CO poisoning deaths are associated with the use of heating systems. Other consumer products associated with CO poisoning deaths include engine-driven tools such as portable generators and lawn mowers, charcoal grills, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, and fuel-burning camping equipment.
Because CO has no smell, color or taste, and because some symptoms of moderate CO poisoning mimic common illnesses such as influenza or colds, consumers often do not realize they have been exposed to harmful levels of CO. For these reasons, the CPSC encourages all consumers to install CO alarms outside the bedrooms in each sleeping area of their home.
In 2004, CPSC staff completed a report that included a number of recommendations to improve the standard for CO alarms, UL 2034 Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Alarms; and we are participating in Standard Technical Panel (STP) activities to implement changes to the standard. CPSC staff is also continuing long-term tests of CO alarms and will make additional recommendations to UL 2034 to further improve reliability and sensor technology, as needed.