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Do We Breathe Out Carbon Monoxide

by Lyndon Langley
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Do We Breathe Out Carbon Monoxide

Do We Breathe Out Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is one of the most common and deadly toxic gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). More than 100 people die every year from CO poisoning. And it’s not just smokers who are at risk; even non-smokers can be killed by the gas because they often use heating systems that burn fuel with improper ventilation or malfunctioning equipment like furnaces, water heaters and kerosene space heaters. In fact, more than 1 million households in America have some sort of CO leak each year, which translates into thousands of deaths annually.
So what exactly does carbon monoxide do? The name might sound familiar if you’ve ever had an engine run poorly on gasoline or been near a car fire. That’s because carbon monoxide is produced when hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline, oil and natural gas react with nitrogen oxides in the air and other oxygen molecules. When released into the atmosphere, CO has two sources — burning fossil fuels or incomplete combustion of organic materials.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, carbon monoxide enters our bodies when we inhale it. But unlike smoke, which contains many harmful substances including tar, carbon monoxide can’t be seen, tasted or smelled. So how do you know if you’re being exposed? You’ll probably feel lightheaded and dizzy within minutes of exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide. If left untreated, this leads to loss of consciousness, nausea, chest pain, vomiting and convulsions. Death may result if treatment isn’t administered quickly enough.
But what happens after we breath it in? Well, it takes anywhere from 10 minutes to 24 hours before all traces of carbon monoxide leave our bodies. This is why it’s important to make sure any CO detector we have in our homes works properly. Also, since CO doesn’t dissolve easily in water, its odor won’t reach us until long after exposure. As such, it’s hard to smell the gas unless you’re close to where it’s leaking.
How much carbon monoxide should we worry about? According to the EPA, low concentrations of carbon monoxide aren’t dangerous, but higher levels pose serious health risks. According to the CDC, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends no level of carbon monoxide be considered safe.
So now that we know what carbon monoxide is and how it affects us, let’s see how we exhale carbon monoxide.
Exhaling Carbon Monoxide
When we inhale something, it goes down our trachea (windpipe) and then travels down our airways. From there, the airway branches off into smaller tubes called bronchii. At the end of these tubes are tiny sacs filled with fluid called alveoli. Alveolar units absorb and transfer oxygen throughout the body. Oxygen also reacts with carbon dioxide inside the bloodstream to form blood cells.
At the same time, carbon monoxide comes out the mouth and nose and is carried along with oxygen through the windpipe and airways. However, since carbon monoxide is heavier than oxygen, it moves slower than the latter. What’s worse, once inside the lungs, carbon monoxide binds itself to hemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen around the body. Because of this, the ability of hemoglobin to transport oxygen gets impaired. This results in hypoxia, a condition in which tissues don’t receive sufficient amounts of oxygen to sustain life. A person suffering from severe hypoxia will experience headaches, weakness, confusion, disorientation, chest pains, shortness of breath, vomiting, seizures and eventually death.
While carbon monoxide is lighter than oxygen, it still diffuses faster. According to Dr. Robert J. Meyers, director of occupational medicine at New York University Medical Center, “Inhaled carbon monoxide will diffuse around the lung tissue and enter the small blood vessels in less than 30 seconds,” he says. Once inside the capillary system, carbon monoxide attaches itself to hemoglobin proteins, forming carbon monoxide-hemoglobin complexes. Since these complexes can’t carry enough oxygen to sustain life, the affected individual experiences hypoxia. Afterward, these damaged blood cells release their iron content, causing a type of free radical damage to nearby healthy cells.
How can carbon monoxide get into our bodies? Here are a few examples:
Smoke inhalation – Smoke contains several toxins including carbon monoxide, nicotine, carbonic acid and hydrogen cyanide. These chemicals cause a series of reactions in our bodies leading to acute injury.

Furnace leaks – A furnace uses gas to produce hot air, so when a furnace malfunctions, it can emit large quantities of carbon monoxide into the house. The symptoms include headache, fatigue, weakness, nausea, chest tightness and difficulty breathing.

Woodburning stoves – Burning wood generates carbon monoxide. Stove manufacturers usually warn consumers against using them indoors.

Gasoline engines – Engines running without proper ventilation can release carbon monoxide.

Electricity generators – If electricity is generated by diesel engines, coal-fired boilers or generators fueled by propane, natural gas, liquid petroleum gas or gasoline, carbon monoxide can build up inside.

Coal miners – Miners are often exposed to extremely high levels of carbon monoxide. They can suffer from severe black lung disease.

If you suspect carbon monoxide exposure, call 911 right away.
To keep ourselves safe from carbon monoxide, here are some tips:
Use detectors. Have a home carbon monoxide detector installed by a professional installer. Make sure the device meets current safety standards. Test it monthly.

Have chimneys inspected. Chimneys are notorious for releasing poisonous fumes during the burning process. Hire someone experienced to inspect yours regularly.

Replace cracked furnaces and faulty flues. Furnaces and chimney linings can crack and allow exhaust gases to escape.

Make sure appliances like ovens, ranges, dryers and dishwashers have working spark arrestors. Use only approved products that have been certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Avoid using generators inside houses. Generators use fuel and need proper ventilations.

Run generators outside. Never store them inside your attic or garage.

Invest in quality paints and finishes. Poorly painted surfaces can act as reservoirs for indoor pollutants.

Keep your vehicle well maintained, especially if you use a charcoal grill or smoker inside your home. Clean carburetors and replace defective hoses.

Breathing in carbon monoxide causes cellular membranes to rupture, resulting in cell death. Once carbon monoxide attaches to hemoglobin, the blood becomes unable to deliver oxygen to vital organs. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to starve and die, eventually leading to unconsciousness and death. Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur in less than 60 minutes, making early detection crucial.
To learn more, visit the links below.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Chronic Effects of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.” http://www.cdc.gov/ncellddd/carbonmonoxide/effects.html
Environmental Protection Agency. “Toxic Air Pollutants.” http://airnow.gov/factsheets/psf_toxicpollutants.php3
National Institutes of Health. “NIH Publication No. 01-1012.” NIH Pub No. 99-0132. March 2003.

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1 comment

Containers For Sale August 15, 2022 - 12:40 pm

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