Carbon Monoxide

By: Linda Luu

Introducing Carbon Monoxide..

Carbon monoxide, with the chemical formula CO, Carbon monoxide is formed with one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. It is part of the inorganic compounds known as oxocarbons, related to carbon dioxide, carbon suboxide, mellitic anhydride and many others. It is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. It is dangerous to humans because it gives no indication of its presence. Carbon monoxide is formed when there is not enough oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, for example when operating a stove or a car in a narrow space area. When CO concentration is above 70 ppm (parts per million) it can cause symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and nausea. The symptom can be similar to a cold or a flu and many people mistake Co poisoning for these illness.

Natural processes

Carbon monoxide is formed naturally during the combustion (burning) of wood, coal, and other naturally occurring substances. During the atmospheric oxidation of methane gas, CH4. Methane is formed naturally by the decompisition of

organic matter: 2CH4(g) + 3O2(g) --> 2CO(g) + 4H2O(l). Carbon monoxide is also formed when there is not enough oxygen to produce carbon dioxide (CO2), for example when operating a stove or a car in a narrow space area. When CO concentration is above 70 ppm (parts per million) it can cause symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and nausea. The symptom can be similar to a cold or a flu and many people mistake Co poisoning for these illness. CO may be converted to carbon dioxide through natural atmospheric processes.


When oxygen is present, carbon monoxide burns with a blue flame that produces carbon dioxide. Carbon monoxide is one of the most common type of fatal air poisoning in many countries. When it is in contact with humans and animals it combines with hemoglobin in the red blood cells to produce carboxyhemoglobin, which is ineffective for delivering oxygen to bodily tissues. If for example carbon monoxide levels is low at 667 parts per million by volume, it may cause up to 50% of the body’s hemoglobin to convert to carboxyhemoglobin which may cause a seizure, coma, and fatality. Usually, if exposure at level 100 ppm or greater it is dangerous to humans health.
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Anthropogenic processes

Our everyday activities affect the cause of carbon monoxide in many ways. The Global atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased over the years due to human activities. Today CO2 levels are high and we care because of concerns over climate change. Carbon monoxide is type of greenhouse gas. Which absorbs outgoing long wave radiation and warms the atmosphere.

Anthropogenic sources include incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and forest fires, where there is a limited supply of oxygen. For example, from the incomplete combination of coal: 2C(s) + O2(g)--> 2CO(g). Burning fossil fuels is one of the cause for carbon monoxide. Fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas are useful sources for our everyday activities, but it is also harming our environment. Fossil fuels burning in power stations and automobiles contain carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides and nitrogen oxides turn into photo chemical reactions produce dangerous fuels and flue gases. When fossil fuels burn efficiently in an excess of air/oxygen the main products are carbon dioxide and water. Anthropogenic warming, due to elevated greenhouse gas levels have an influence on many physical and biological systems. Future impacts include sea level rise, increased frequencies and severities of some extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity, and regional changes in agricultural productivity.

Good vs. Bad of Carbon Monoxide

It is rare for carbon monoxide is good for you. Although, there was a case where carbon monoxide kills cells that damage DNA mutations. Leo Otterbein, PhD, a scientist in the Division of Transplantation at Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center claims that every cell in the human body produces and uses CO gas molecules to respond to intracellular stresses, inflammation, and control of blood pressure, memory and circadian rhythm. Also, when a person gets sick, the body's CO levels protectively rise in response so it is beneficial. In normal cells, proteins called 'DNA repair enzymes' are in charge of a cell's DNA for potential mutations. Otterbein thinks that carbon monoxide may also control the activities of the proteins. Carbon monoxide attraction to metals are contained in the cell's DNA. In a cell that has damaged DNA mutations extra metals that gather in the mutated areas which then attracts more carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide are able to kill the cells to die.


In most cases carbon monoxide is very harmful for the environment and humans. Since it is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, and gives no indication of its presence it’s considered a “silent killer.” Dangerous situations can occur for example, when carbon monoxide is trapped in a narrowed space contained with people. If there is an over load of carbon monoxide in an area filled with people, the people may have trouble absorbing oxygen, resulting in serious tissue damage. More than 400 Americans die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning and it's also responsible for sending more than 20,000 people to the emergency room.


Low concentration of carbon monoxide can lead to death. How? The oxygen in our body is carried by a protein molecule in the red blood cells called haemoglobin. The bond between oxygen and haemoglobin aren't strong to allow easy oxygen transfer for cell respiration. Although, the connection between carbon monoxide and haemoglobin is much stronger, so the oxygen is replaced by the carbon monoxide and blocks the normal cell respiration. Eventually, it reduces the blood oxygen concentration leading to unconsciousness and death.


Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning feels like a flu but without a fever. You may feel a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, and nausea. If you have high level poisoning can result in vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision and loss of consciousness. In some cases where carbon monoxide problems start to develop, victims may mistake their symptoms for the flu. When carbon monoxide levels are higher, victims may start to lose muscle control without being aware of the flu-like symptoms and will probably succumb to poisoning if they don't get help. It's best to go outside and get fresh air as soon as you can if you believe you are experiencing any of these symptoms and call the fire department for help.


Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by having your heat system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. Install a CO detector in your home and check or replace battery when needed. Get medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning or if you feel dizzy, light headed, or nauseous. Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window. Don't heat your house with a gas oven. Don't run a automobile inside a garage, EVEN if you leave the door open.

Resources

  • "Carbon Monoxide." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
  • "Science Clarified." Carbon Monoxide. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
  • "Carbon Monoxide." Carbon Monoxide. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.
  • "Introduction." Anthropogenic Carbon. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Brown, Catrin. Higher Level Chemistry: Developed Specifically for the IB Diploma. N.p.: Pearson, 2009. Print.

  • "Can Carbon Monoxide Be Good for You? | Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center." Can Carbon Monoxide Be Good for You? | Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

CO - The Silent Killer