Program in Brief

What is the public health problem?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, an odorless, colorless gas can cause sudden illness and death. CO is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned in a furnace, vehicle, generator, grill, or elsewhere. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces and poison the people and animals in them.

What does CDC do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?


CDC monitors, evaluates, and presents surveillance data and works with national data sources and state partners to expand surveillance of CO poisoning beyond mortality. Activities include:

  • Hospitalization and Emergency Department Visit Surveillance
  • Post-disaster Surveillance
    • nationwide poison center data, as collected by the National Poisoning Data System,
    • mortality data, collected as part of the National Vital Statistics System, and
    • syndromic surveillance of suspected CO poisonings.


CDC engages in multiple research activities related to CO poisoning prevention and human behavior. As all CO poisoning is a result of human behavior, altering that behavior is a key to preventing CO poisoning. For example,

  • determining recommended safe distances for placement of portable generators to prevent CO infiltration into buildings. (In cooperation with the National Institute of Standards and Technology)
  • understanding public attitudes on CO poisoning prevention related to furnace maintenance, portable generator use, and CO detector ownership through the HealthStyles survey of more than 4,000 households nationwide, to facilitate changes in public attitude and behavior.
  • validating the findings of the HealthStyles survey and to expand knowledge of behaviors that prevent CO poisoning. CDC is using the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the National Health Interview Survey, which interview more than 350,000 and 75,000 individuals, respectively, each year.
  • assessing effectiveness of local legislation mandating the use of CO detectors and their cost-effectiveness. (In cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Health and the Mecklenburg County Health Department)


Using what it has learned from its research activities and field investigations, CDC engages in numerous education and communication activities including


CDC is actively engaged in strengthening state and local capacity to respond to CO-related issues; responding to state requests for technical assistance; working with state, local, and private sector partners to shape and target outreach and education efforts; and jointly developing its surveillance, research, and education agenda. Activities include:

  • working with Underwriters Laboratories and the Consumer Products Safety Commission in developing new warning guidelines for the safe operation of portable generators.
  • working with the Air Conditioning Contractors of America to raise awareness of CO poisoning associated with home heating systems and to promote regular maintenance of those systems.
  • developing specific objectives in cooperation with state health departments, including increasing the number of states, tribes, and territories conducting active surveillance; collaborating on prevention strategies; and developing, implementing, and evaluating prevention strategies.
  • developing carbon monoxide workgroups in cooperation with state health departments and initiating a CO listserve to facilitate the free exchange of information with and between its partners. These groups are working to develop appropriate indicators for CO exposures and health effects and to develop CO-related questions for national survey surveillance systems. More accurate and reliable surveillance will enable CDC and our partners to evaluate, improve, and target our efforts in preventing CO poisoning.
Page last reviewed: April 27, 2009