Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced by burning gasoline, wood, paper, natural gas, or kerosene. Poisoning from carbon monoxide emissions is common in many industries; in fact, it has been estimated that each year, the gas kills over 5,000 people in the United States alone, and seriously injures another 10,000. Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, loss of consciousness, and even death when individuals are exposed to higher levels of the gas.
What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide has no detectable smell or taste, so it is impossible to tell if you are breathing in the gas. The compound competes with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. Carbon monoxide is much more efficient at getting into hemoglobin than oxygen is; thus, if oxygen is unable to get into hemoglobin because the space is occupied by CO, tissues will be deprived of oxygen and subsequently die.
Carbon monoxide is commonly found in the combustion fumes of automobiles, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges and heating systems. The exhaust from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces, where people and animals can be poisoned by breathing it.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms
The most commonly reported signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- chest pain
Exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide gas can cause:
- loss of consciousness
If the patient has only suffered from mild symptoms, the chances of making a full recovery are generally very good. However, many people with serious cases of carbon monoxide poisoning have severe long-term health complications, which may include persistent heart and lung damage.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in the Workplace
Carbon monoxide poisoning in the workplace can be a serious problem due to the fact that the gas is colorless and odorless, and often goes undetected until its too late. CO can get into the air through faulty or broken machines in the workplace. Some of the most common sources include:
- water heaters
- small gas or diesel powered tools
- central heating systems
Carbon monoxide has been called the ‘silent killer’ because, without the proper safety equipment, its presence is virtually impossible to detect until symptoms of poisoning appear. Recently published statistics show that carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for more than half of the accidental poisoning cases that occur each year on job sites around the country.