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Tox Town - Environmental health concerns and toxic chemicals where you live, work, and play
Carbon Dioxideen español
Carbon dioxide is a colorless gas that contributes to global warming.

What is carbon dioxide?

Carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless gas that has a faint acid taste. It can also be a liquefied compressed gas or white flakes or cubes. In solid form, it is used as dry ice. Carbon dioxide can be found naturally in spring water and is released when volcanoes erupt and trees are cut down. When people breathe, they exhale carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is also produced by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, gasoline, natural gas, and diesel fuel. The chemical formula for carbon dioxide is CO2

Carbon dioxide is used for refrigeration, carbonation of beverages such as soda and beer, and production of other chemicals, including methanol. Industries that use carbon dioxide include fire extinguishing; processing, preserving, and freezing of food; metal working; livestock slaughtering; oil and gas recovery; and foundries. Carbon dioxide is used in fertilizers, aerosol propellants, aspirin, and cylinders for inflating life rafts. It is also used to produce harmless smoke or fumes on a stage, chill golf ball centers before winding, and fumigate rice. 

In the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is part of the global carbon cycle between the atmosphere, oceans, land, marine life, and mineral reservoirs. It is a “greenhouse gas” because it absorbs heat in the atmosphere, sending some of the absorbed heat back to the surface of the earth and contributing to global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions represent about 80 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Sources of carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change, include fossil fuel burning, electricity generation, transportation vehicles, cement or lime manufacturing, waste burning, and natural gas flaring.

How might I be exposed to carbon dioxide?

Everyone is exposed to low levels of carbon dioxide in its gas form by breathing indoor and outdoor air. 

At home, you can be exposed to low levels of carbon dioxide if you drink carbonated beverages, burn fossil fuels for heating or cooking, use dry ice, or use a vehicle that uses gasoline. Exposure can occur if you live near a volcano that has erupted. 

At work, you can be exposed to industrial-use gas or liquid carbon dioxide by breathing it or having skin contact with it. You can be exposed if you work with refrigeration, chemicals, food processing or freezing, metal working, livestock slaughtering, and cement, lime, or carbonated beverage manufacturing. You can be exposed if you produce fire extinguishing equipment, fertilizer, aerosols, aspirin, golf balls, and cylinders for inflating life rafts. Other workplaces that can expose you to carbon dioxide are foundries, natural gas extraction sites, electric power plants, waste incinerators, submarines, breweries, and oil wells.

How can carbon dioxide affect my health?

Carbon dioxide in its gas form is an asphyxiant, which cuts off the oxygen supply for breathing, especially in confined spaces. Exposure to concentrations of 10 percent or more of carbon dioxide can cause death, unconsciousness, or convulsions. Exposure may damage a developing fetus. 

Exposure to lower concentrations of carbon dioxide can cause hyperventilation, vision damage, lung congestion, central nervous system injury, abrupt muscle contractions, elevated blood pressure, and shortness of breath. Exposure can also cause dizziness, headache, sweating, fatigue, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, depression, confusion, skin and eye burns, and ringing in the ears. 

If your skin touches dry ice, you can get frostbite or blisters. 

You may be more affected by exposure to carbon dioxide if you have a cardiac, lung, or blood disease or condition. 

If you think your health has been affected by exposure to carbon dioxide, contact your health care professional. 

For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.


More Links
Carbon Dioxide. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Carbon Dioxide. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Carbon Dioxide. Household Products Database (National Library of Medicine)
Climate Change: Carbon Dioxide Emissions (Environmental Protection Agency)

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Last Updated: April 1, 2014

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