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Occupational & Environmental Epidemiology

Combustion Products

Combustion products are gases, chemicals and particles created when something burns. Sources of combustion products include fixed vented fuel-burning appliances, equipment and engines (gasoline, diesel fuel, propane, natural gas, kerosene, coal wood and other biomass) and portable unvented fuel burning appliances, equipment and engines. Malfunctioning furnaces, water heaters and boilers can also be sources of combustion pollutants. Fixed combustion sources can back draft when buildings are depressurized enough to actually pull air and combustion products back down a chimney or flue which is a very dangerous situation. Burning tobacco products also release combustion products into the air.

Carbon monoxide, a deadly gas, kills over 200 people per year in the United States. During power outages, using charcoal or gas grills and gas-powered generators indoors, enclosed spaces or near windows and air intakes can cause serious carbon monoxide poisoning and possible death to people in the home.

Learn more about sources and health effects of carbon monoxide.

Other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxide and very small particles, can cause breathing problems, particularly in sensitive individuals, and can trigger asthma attacks. The health concerns caused by combustion products may range from mild health effects to death.

Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), or second-hand smoke, is a mixture of the smoke given off by the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar, and the smoke that is exhaled from the lungs of the smoker. ETS can cause significant Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) problems in buildings. In addition to carbon monoxide, ETS contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, approximately 40 of which are carcinogens or suspected carcinogens. Secondhand smoke has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a known cause of lung cancer in humans (Group A carcinogen). Children who breathe ETS are more likely to suffer from ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and other lung diseases. ETS can increase the risk of asthma attacks in persons with asthma.

Learn more about the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke, benefits of smoke free environments and smoking cessation resources at NC DHHS: Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch.

Prevention

To ensure that carbon monoxide and other combustion pollutants do not create indoor environmental quality problems, take the following steps:

  • Install a CO alarm with the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) Mark and adjacent phrase “Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm” in every residential dwelling.
  • Install and test carbon monoxide alarms following the manufacturer’s instructions.  Change batteries every six months or following the manufacturer’s instructions.   Replace carbon monoxide alarms every seven years or when the alarm “chirps”.
  • Regularly inspect and maintain all combustion appliances, equipment and engines.
  • Gas stoves, heaters, ovens, fireplaces, furnances, clothes dryers and hot water heaters should be vented to the outside.
  • NEVER USE a gas oven to heat the home.
  • NEVER USE a camp stove, charcoal or gas grill indoors for cooking or heating.
  • NEVER USE a gasoline-powered generator indoors. Gas-powered generators MUST be used outdoors, in a well-ventilated area away from windows, doors and air-intakes.
  • NEVER USE any gasoline-powered tools or equipment, such as buffers and blowers, indoors.
  • DO NOT let automobile engines idle or any gasoline-powered equipment run while in an attached garage.
  • Eliminate indoor tobacco smoke.

For Additional Information