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What are sources of carbon monoxide?

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Quick Answer

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is produced from the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, wood, charcoal, kerosene, propane and natural gas. It is also produced by products that use internal combustion engines, including cars, lawn mowers, motorcycles and generators. Certain modern industrial processes, such as iron smelting, produce carbon monoxide, as do some natural phenomenon, such as volcano eruptions and forest fires.

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Full Answer

The chemical formula for carbon monoxide is CO, which consists of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom. It is generally created when there is not enough oxygen to form carbon dioxide, or CO2. When CO is exposed to oxygen, it burns with a blue flame and produces CO2. Carbon monoxide has a molar mass of 28.0, which is slightly lighter than air.

Carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless and colorless, making it virtually undetectable by the human body. As a result, a person can be unaware of exposure to CO until symptoms start to show. In low concentrations, the initial symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath. As the level or duration of the poisoning increases, symptoms can progress to mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, unconsciousness and death. A person showing symptoms of CO poisoning must get outside and into fresh air immediately and contact a doctor for diagnosis.

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