Breath and ambient (room) carbon monoxide (CO) levels were measured in a random sample of 168 adults in their own homes. The levels of breath CO in the 69 smokers ranged from 3 ppm to over 100 ppm, 74% being above 10 ppm; mean levels in the 99 nonsmokers were lower than in the smokers, 79% being below 6 ppm. In the remaining 21% of nonsmokers with higher breath levels than expected, the ambient CO was also found to be elevated, ranging up to 38 ppm. A close correlation in the nonsmokers was found between the breath and ambient CO levels (r = 0.952, p less than 0.001). The rooms with the elevated ambient CO levels (above 5 ppm) were those which, at the time of testing, were being heated by gas radiant heaters, open fires or stoves. The maximum ambient CO in the rooms of smokers with non CO generating heating was 16 ppm. The results suggest that many people, both smokers and nonsmokers, may be at risk from CO generated by certain domestic heating systems and that nonsmokers are far more likely to be exposed to high levels of CO from these sources than from being in a room with a heavy smoker. Poor ventilation associated with the current trend towards excluding all draughts is likely to exacerbate the situation for both smokers and nonsmokers.
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