What Are the Dangers of Fumes From Oil Furnaces?

Written by natasha gilani
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What Are the Dangers of Fumes From Oil Furnaces?
Fumes from oil furnaces cause a range of respiratory tract illnesses. (sunset stack-furnace image by Pali A from Fotolia.com)

Oil furnaces, also called oil-fired furnaces, are heating devices that burn oil to produce heat. Heat generated from oil furnaces is utilised for various residential and industrial heating applications. The burning process releases thick, dense smoke that is high in carbon -- both burnt and unburnt -- and other toxic gases. These gases, when released in the atmosphere, cause numerous health hazards.

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Lung Damage

According to John D. Spengler et.al., in the "Interior Air Quality Handbook," burning oil releases noxious gases, some of which include nitrogen and sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide -- all respiratory tract irritants. These toxic contents of fumes that are released from oil-burning furnaces damage the lungs. Carbon monoxide, in particular, is a poisonous gas that causes respiratory irritation in minute qualities and unconsciousness, even death, in greater quantities and/or upon extended exposure.

Fumes from oil furnaces also contain tiny carbon particles, which adhere to the oesophagus and lungs when inhaled, causing shortness of breath and laboured breathing. Carbon particulate matter hinders the normal functioning of the lungs, causing discomfort.

The burning of oil also releases hydrogen cyanide gas, which damages the lungs and causes death upon extended exposure.


Oil furnaces release certain gaseous acids upon burning. These acids, when inhaled, damage the delicate lining of the tissues. Some acids formed when oil burns, according to David N. Herndon in the book "Total Burn Care," include sulphuric and hydrochloric acids. These acids burn the lungs and the respiratory tract when in contact. They also damage and burn the outer layers of internal organs, sometimes leading to further complications and/or death. Acid-inhalation related injuries manifest themselves either immediately after exposure to oil fumes or become problems later in life.

Oxygen Displacement

Poisonous byproducts of fumes generated from oil furnaces overwhelm the environment and deplete its oxygen supply. Humans require a constant source of pure oxygen for their bodies to function optimally. Fumes from oil furnaces displace natural oxygen, forcing humans to inhale the harmful constituents. These byproducts enter the blood stream and replace its oxygen supply, ensuing allergic reactions. Inhaling greater quantities of oil-burning fumes causes symptoms of oxygen deficiency, some of which, according to D. Alan Veasey et.al., in the book "Confined Space Entry and Emergency Response," include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, depression, memory loss and hostility. The body reacts by shutting down its primary functions and causing unconsciousness.

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