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 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
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