What is Carbon Monoxide?

Written by J.A Dobado | Last Updated on April 22, 2024

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and toxic gas. It is a product of incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons. Its molecule is composed of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom.

Health hazards

If inhaled, carbon monoxide replaces the oxygen that cells need to function. Carbon monoxide in the air builds up quickly in the blood, causing flu-like symptoms such as headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, confusion and irritability. As its concentration increases, CO causes vomiting, loss of consciousness, and eventually brain damage and death. People suffering from heart problems are particularly sensitive to CO and may experience chest pain if inhaled during exercise. Children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems are also particularly sensitive.
Carbon monoxide causes disorders in healthy individuals, affecting motor functions, vision, manual dexterity, learning ability and the ability to perform complex tasks.

Carbon monoxide formation

Carbon monoxide comes from the combustion of hydrocarbons. Among the most common sources of CO generation are gas appliances such as ovens, refrigerators, clothes dryers, ranges, water heaters and heating systems, as well as fireplaces, charcoal grills and wood-burning stoves. Exhaust fumes from cars and lawn mowers also contain CO and can enter your home through walls or doors if an engine is left running in an adjacent garage. In the United States, two-thirds of CO emissions come from transportation, with the main source of emissions being vehicles on highways. In urban areas, vehicle tailpipe emissions account for more than 90 percent of total carbon monoxide pollution.

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