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Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is a hot topic. The world has been intensely pre-occupied with discourses over the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the effects of global warming following the undue shift of climatic patterns recently. The untoward effects of global warming is bound to haunt us if we continue to excessively pump hazardous elements into the Earth's atmosphere.

carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide is just one of these elements. Though we are obviously concerned about the toxic effects and how we should strive to prevent the catastrophic consequences of utter dependence on fossil fuels, we have failed to diagnose the dangers of gas contamination lurking within our midst; in our kitchen, in garages and in other areas where fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil) are being burned. We should also be aware that the presence of carbon monoxide poses immediate danger to our lives that requires our urgent attention.

What is carbon monoxide?

The gas carbon monoxide is a by-product of the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. As man becomes educated over the hazards of dependence on fossil fuels, he must nevertheless be aware of the potential dangers of fuel combustion. From small fires to large-scale manufacturing to the harnessing of electricity, carbon monoxide produced in these activities becomes a lethal enemy in industrial processes. Many facilities will check carbon monoxide levels surrounding their massive manufacturing enclosures.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is tasteless and a non-irritating chemical compound as well. Air coming out of blast furnaces and coal gas contains about 25-percent and 16-percent carbon monoxide respectively. Ninety-percent of fire victims succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning, so do a majority of casualties related to fatal gas exposure. Domestic carbon monoxide poisoning still leads the cause of deaths, but not because of a leaking gas cylinders but due to a damaged chimney flue, though a few come from space heaters as well.

In the coalmines of Britain during the latter part of the 19th century, small birds (canaries) were used to test the presence of carbon monoxide in coal pits. If birds fall from their perches, gas concentration is deemed high and workers are not allowed until proper safety measures have ensued and the pit is declared habitable.

Joseph Priestly in the 1800's was the first to identify the gas (carbon monoxide), but it was Claude Bernard in 1870 that found its affinity to hemoglobin that accounts for its lethal effect on humans. With carbon monoxide poisoning, carboxyhaemoglobin occurs thwarting the passage of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, as demonstrated by J.S. Haldane in 1895.

Is there a cure for carbon monoxide poisoning?

The symptoms for carbon monoxide poisoning vary, depending on the degree of inhalation and exposure to gas. Poisoning builds up slowly and a victim may pass out, but headache with or without nausea is common. This may be due to carbon monoxide's vasodilating effect. Drowsiness and lethargy follows which is complemented by extreme difficulty in breathing.

From this point onwards, carbon monoxide poisoning is at the critical stage. Chest pains follow a condition called angina due to cardiac hypoxia. This adds to the impairment of cerebral functions, thus limiting proper thinking and the desire to escape the contaminated area. Coma then follows and possibly death.

Those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning should be immediately pulled out of the contaminated enclosure and 100-percent oxygen must be administered as soon as possible, so that damage to the brain tissues can be minimized. Many victims are placed under the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to speed up recovery. There is increasing evidence that this form of treatment reduces long-term neurological problems.

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