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What Is Carbon Monoxide And Its Effects Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1048 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Carbon monoxide (CO), also known as carbonous oxide, is a colourless, odourless, tasteless gas produced by incomplete combustion of the fossil and carbon-based fuels, when there is not enough oxygen to produce Carbon Dioxide. Normally, carbon (C) and oxygen (O2) combine to produce carbon dioxide (CO2), when combustion of carbon is complete, in the presence of plenty of air. When combustion of carbon is incomplete, there is a limited supply of air, and only half as much oxygen adds to the carbon, forming carbon monoxide (CO). Many sources of carbon monoxide include: Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces, gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces; gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment; automobile exhaust from attached garages; and tobacco smoke. Carbon monoxide is not only formed from incomplete combustion, it is also formed as a pollutant when hydrocarbon fuels (natural gas, petrol, and diesel) are burned. Carbon Monoxide gas is produced from the partial oxidation of carbon-containing compounds and it consists of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. Carbon Monoxide is also the simplest oxocarbon, and is an anhydride of formic acid.

The symbol equation for the formation of carbon dioxide is:

(hydrocarbon) + O2 —— CO + H2O

Effects on humans

Despite Carbon Monoxide being perfectly harmless to humans at low exposure, it is extremely poisonous, often fatal, to humans at higher levels. When Carbon Monoxide enters the body through the respiratory system, it binds very strongly to the iron atoms in haemoglobin, the principal oxygen-carrying compound in blood. Haemoglobin, a protein present in the red blood cells, normally binds oxygen to form oxyhemoglobin and transports it to all parts of the body. When Carbon Monoxide enters the bloodstream, it competes with oxygen and binds to haemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin. Carbon monoxide is attracted to haemoglobin over 200 times more strongly than oxygen. Therefore, in the blood, the presence of carbon monoxide prevents some of the haemoglobin found in red blood cells from carrying sufficient oxygen around the body, sometimes resulting in death.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning

The symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning may be non-specific and similar to those of viral cold and flu infections, food poisoning or just simple fatigue. But, unlike flu and many viral infections, carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t result in a high temperature. At low concentrations, the poisoning produces symptoms such as abdominal pain; dizziness; sore throat; dry cough; fatigue in healthy people and chest pain in people with heart disease. At higher concentrations, the effects many include: impaired vision and coordination; headaches; dizziness; confusion; and nausea. At extreme levels of exposure, fast and irregular heart rate; hyperventilation; difficulty breathing; Seizures and loss of consciousness may occur. Some symptoms can occur a few days or even months after exposure to carbon monoxide, and may include confusion, loss of memory, problems with coordination; and unusually pinkish skin and cheeks, or bright red lips.

Most of the symptoms and effects produced by exposure to carbon monoxide are generally reversible, as the effects disappear following removal from exposure. Despite this, if extremely high exposure does not result in death; permanent damage to the body is likely to occur, mostly to the nervous system. Many of the serious effects include:

· loss of memory

· increased irritability

· impulsiveness

· mood changes

· violent behaviour

· verbal aggression

· personality changes

· learning disabilities

· mental deterioration

· instability when walking

Many people are more at risk of Carbon Monoxide poisoning; due is to their greater need for oxygen or an impaired ability of their bodies to provide an adequate supply. Those at most risk include:

· pregnant women

· the physically active

· older workers

· heavy smokers

· sufferers from respiratory diseases

· sufferers from heart disease


Even though carbon monoxide poses a big threat to human health, the effects of exposure to it, both short-term and long-term, can be prevented if all the necessary precautions are carried out. The most important measure to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning, is to have a Carbon Monoxide detector fitted in your home. The detectors can come in an alarm form, similar to fire detectors, or a passive form, which are adhesive detectors with a circle on the indicator that will turn grey or black, depending on the concentration of CO in the room. According to the National Fire Protection Association 93% of homes have smoke alarms, yet the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that only 15% have carbon monoxide alarms, which greatly contributes to the high numbers of poisonings. The second precaution that you should take to protect yourself is to have your heating system; water heater; chimney and flue; and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances to be serviced by a qualified technician every year. You should also make sure that all your cooking appliances and furnaces are inspected for adequate safety and ventilation. Another precaution to take is to make sure not use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, garage or near a window, as charcoal is very susceptible to producing carbon monoxide when burned. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, you should not run a car or any other automobile inside a garage attached to your home, or any enclosed space, even if you leave the door open, as Carbon Monoxide could become trapped. Making sure not to burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented, is also another life saving precaution to take. With a combination of all of the advice and techniques to prevent carbon Mmnoxide exposure within your home, you can protect yourself and others from the deadly and life threatening problem of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.


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