Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas which is formed through the partial combustion of carbonaceous material. Although this gas is very structurally simple, it is also very deadly, and it poses a serious health risk since people can be severely injured through slow exposure over time as well as through brief exposure to high levels of this gas. Carbon monoxide is also very useful; it is an important gas in many industrial processes, and it is even deliberately generated by many chemical manufacturers.
The chemical formula of carbon monoxide is CO, meaning that it has one oxygen atom and one carbon atom. Any sort of combustion will produce this gas in varying levels, which normally dissipates into the atmosphere; inefficient combustion can generate dangerously high levels of this gas. In a confined space, it can become very dangerous. One of the most common sources of dangerous carbon monoxide is household appliances like heaters and stoves, along with internal combustion engines such as those found in cars. Proper ventilation of any sort of equipment which burns carbonaceous material is extremely important.
When animals and people are exposed to carbon monoxide, the gas binds to the red blood cells in the body, interfering with their ability to carry oxygen. The gas can stay in the body for an extended period of time, making it possible for people to slowly get sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. It can take several hours for the body to express the harmful carboxyhaemoglobin which is formed as a result of CO exposure.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is characterized by fatigue, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, and chest pain. Tissues in the extremities of the patient will also start to die as a result of the restricted flow of oxygen. If left untreated, a person can go into a coma, and ultimately die. The condition is diagnosed by testing CO levels in the blood, and it is treated with inhalation of oxygen, often in a hyperbaric chamber; the high pressure hastens the expression of carboxyhaemoglobin from the body.
In the home, it is a very good idea to purchase, use, and regularly test carbon monoxide detectors. In addition to warning you of a dangerous leak caused by faulty devices, these detectors can also indicate a smoldering fire. You should also regularly check your appliances for efficiency, and make sure that your home is well vented so that this harmful gas will not accumulate in your home. Several companies also make CO detectors for vehicles.