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Carbon Monoxide


Carbon monoxide is one of the most difficult pollutants to control and this is quite similar to ozone. We get to see carbon monoxide getting produced when carbon containing compounds are burnt in absence or very low quantity of oxygen. Instead of carbon dioxide the molecule which gets produced is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless gaseous molecule at room temperature. This also gives us a specific idea about the gas that it will not give us any warning about its presence. 

Any kind of gasoline based engines are notorious for carbon monoxide and this is because the rapid combustion inside the catalytic chamber do not undergo full combustion and the CO2 formation is limited before the exhaust gases are taken out. The modern catalytic converters help in such conversion and most of it now convert the entire fuel into CO2 instead of carbon monoxide.

Carbon Monoxide Molecule

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Carbon monoxide is a colorless odorless gas at room temperature and that’s why it has no warning properties. It can easily mix with air and enter our body system and create havoc. The interference of carbon monoxide with O2 mixing in our body forms a poisonous molecule which can kill the person within a span of 10 minutes if not given fresh O2 as the carboxyhemoglobin so formed is not only going to reduce the O2 intake but also block the entry of other gases for revitalization. The toxicity of carbon monoxide has been there for over thousands of years and was first mentioned by Aristotle. 

Carbon monoxide even today commands very much the same attention because people die even today due to exposure to this invisible gas. A little more than a century Roughton and Root demonstrated with conviction that human blood contains a small but still significant amount of Carbon monoxide. Later many more discoveries continued this specific gases revealing properties and amaze us with many more surprises. A new era came into being about Carbon monoxide when measuring technology quantified the production of Carbon monoxide. 

The most siginificant advance began when the realisation dawned that Carbon monoxide is not only unavoidable, inert and a waste product but it also plays a major biological role. This metabolic gas has many significance than just being a waste product.

The Carbon monoxide quantitation methodology makes a huge effect in clinical science. Any organic material that undergoes incomplete combustion will liberate Carbon monoxide and any smoldering material is definitely a big source for this gas. For anyone who wants to understand this gas source better should always know that any substance which comes out with big flames is giving out carbon dioxide but the moment the flame goes out but the substance still goes on burning then we are staring at Carbon monoxide. By any small estimation, combustion sources gives off almost 200 million tons of this gas into atmosphere and we are looking at only in USA. 

Carbon Monoxide Synthesis

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This invisible poison gas, Carbon monoxide was discovered in 1776 by Lassonne and it is quite flammable. The Carbon monoxide molecule is electronically similar to nitrogen molecule. But this has a dipole moment which nitrogen doesn’t have. The dipole moment is because the oxygen pulls electrons towards itself due to polarization of the molecule. 

The Carbon monoxide gas is now easily made from the gasification of either carbon, methane or crude oil. Gasification can also be carried out by reacting the materials either with air, oxygen, steam or carbon dioxide. Commercially, there are two well know methods to produce Carbon monoxide from synthesis gas. 
  • Absorption of Carbon monoxide by ammoniacal copper carbonate, acetate or formate solution at a very high pressure. After releasing the pressure on copper liquid a pure form of Carbon monoxide is obtained. 
  • The next process is based on separation of Carbon monoxide from other gases like hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and methane at a very low temperature. Then it is condensed and fractionated.

Effects of Carbon Monoxide

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The health effects of Carbon monoxide which are basically function of its concentration and duration of exposure. This results in either subtle effect or a severe effect where a person might die due to this exposure.
  • Neuro behavioral effects, cardio vascular effects along with developmental effects with low limits of exposure. 
  • Acute level of exposure results in unconsciousness or even death.
  • Lethal level of Carbon monoxide exposure are always linked to high Carbon monoxide concentration like 1000 parts per million by volume.
  • A person might fall into coma, convulsion, cardio arrest and death might also result due to such exposure when COHb levels reach 50% but death might also occur even at lower level of this percentage.
  • Sub lethal levels of Carbon monoxide may cause neurological type symptoms like fatigue, headache or nausea.
  • Exposure to these Carbon monoxide concentration are often wrongly diagnosed for viral infections or clinical depression. 
This wide range of effects makes Carbon monoxide relevant to people concerned with ambient air quality management along with departments which manage the public health programs.