What Are the Sources of Carbon Monoxide?


Quick Answer

Carbon monoxide is primarily produced from the incomplete combustion of fuels such as oil, gas, wood and coal. It is also found in cigarette smoke and in the exhaust fumes of automobile engines. Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide may prove fatal.

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Full Answer

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gaseous compound having the molecular formula CO. The amount of CO normally emitted by fuel-burning devices, such as boilers, cooking ranges, charcoal grills and heating systems, is usually harmless. However, CO can quickly accumulate to dangerous quantities in enclosed or partially ventilated places, which can result in CO poisoning if the gas is inhaled.

The presence of high concentrations of CO in the air prevents oxygen, which is essential for survival, from reaching bodily organs and tissues. Headaches, nausea, vomiting and disorientation are some of the common manifestations of CO poisoning. Prolonged exposure to low levels of CO may also cause adverse health risks. In the United States, accidental exposure to CO is reportedly the cause of around 500 deaths, annually. An estimated 8,000 to 15,000 people per year are provided medical care for non-fire related incidents of CO poisoning, based on a survey conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Ensuring proper ventilation of indoor areas, maintaining fuel-burning appliances and installing a CO detection device are some of the protective measures against CO poisoning.

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