Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced in many ways and can be dangerous to humans. Perhaps the most alarming characteristic of carbon monoxide is the fact that its presence is not easily detectable without a carbon monoxide detector because it is colorless, tasteless, and odorless. Carbon monoxide is also a major pollutant to our atmosphere.
Oxidation is the key factor in creating carbon monoxide. Oxidation is the loss of electrons. When it results from a reaction that takes place with carbon, carbon monoxide is emitted. This oxidation leads to the release of the highly toxic gas.
What Creates CO?
Carbon monoxide can be found in things as natural as a volcano or molten rock, but these aren't generally of great concern. Practically anything that runs an internal combustion engine releases carbon monoxide while burning petrol. This includes lawn mowers, cars, trucks, and back-up generators. However, these are not the only producers of CO. Burning wood, coal, and numerous types of gases also create it. This is why the burning of leaves and debris is not allowed in many large towns, as it produces a highly concentrated area with numerous atmospheric pollutants.
In Your Home
Perhaps the most disturbing place to be confronted with carbon monoxide is in your home. CO is released in malfunctioning appliances. In 2005, 94 deaths alone were caused by generators releasing carbon monoxide, about half of the deaths taking place during power outages. Any fuel-burning appliance runs the risk of emitting carbon monoxide. Furnaces, gas ovens, and water heaters can be contributors to CO poisoning, as well as something as simple as a fireplace. If you have a fireplace, it is important to have it cleaned regularly and make sure it is fully operational every year to avoid disaster. Even minute amounts of CO in a confined area can be toxic.
How It Kills
Around 170 people in the U.S. die each year of carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands are hospitalized, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Once you have been exposed to carbon monoxide, it starts bonding to the hemoglobin (red part) of your blood that distributes oxygen throughout your body. Once these combine, they form a new hemoglobin cell called carboxyhemoglobin. Carboxyhemoglobin cells cannot properly deliver sufficient oxygen to your body, suffocating you from the inside. The first signs of CO poisoning resemble the flu or food poisoning, with added cognitive deficiencies such as confusion and slurred speech. Getting the person out of the house and to an emergency room is critical.
Carbon monoxide detectors are helpful for protecting your family against CO poisoning, but they have their drawbacks. Most only last for two years, and there is no way to check if they are functioning. If you pay a little more, you can get one that lasts longer and can be tested to see if it is in working order.