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Carbon Monoxide

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Imagine a killer perfect enough to travel through the corridors of your home completely undetectable to the eye of its prey. It can't be heard, can't be smelled, and before you or anyone in your household realizes that something is wrong, it could already be too late. Over ten thousand people fall victim to carbon monoxide poisoning and over one thousand five hundred die per year of this gas so deadly, it is referred to as the "silent killer"("What Is Carbon Monoxide?"). Carbon monoxide, or CO for short, is a flammable, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is produced during incomplete combustion of fuel and it's ability to do harm resides within the lack of knowledge and understanding of this gas by society. To remain safe from carbon monoxide poisoning, one must comprehend the causes of carbon monoxide, where it can be found, and how to avoid and deal with contamination.

Carbon itself is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. It can be found in the sun, the stars, comets, and the atmospheres of most planets. There are close to ten million known carbon compounds, many thousands of which are vital to the basis of life itself. In normal combustion, the output would yield two oxygen molecules in combination with one carbon molecule to from carbon dioxide, or CO2. If not enough oxygen is present when the combustion occurs, one molecule is taken in by the carbon molecule to produce carbon monoxide (CO).

When a person takes a breath of air, normally it is absorbed through the bloodstream and the oxygen molecules in the air attaches to the hemoglobin and is then carried throughout the body ("Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Monoxide Detectors"). When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it takes the place of the oxygen molecules in the hemoglobin instead because of it's higher affinity to hemoglobin than oxygen, producing a toxic compound known as carboxyhemoglobin ("What Is Carbon Monoxide?"). This, in turn, restricts the capacity of blood to carry oxygen throughout the body suffocating it. A human body deprived of oxygen becomes very ill and cannot function correctly.

Not only has carbon monoxide been accredited for taking life involuntarily but unfortunately also finds itself as an alternative method for suicide (Doug). The availability of this method, along with the speed and lack of discomfort, makes it a liable source for anyone sadly seeking to commit suicide. Occurrences of this phenomenon include enclosing an automobile within a garage to let the exhaust fill the room. This lets an adequate amount of CO to build up. Another way would be to burn a charcoal grill within a well insulated area, again a garage could be used.

The first step in avoiding carbon monoxide poising is being familiar with exactly where CO can be produced. This includes any place that undergoes combustion. Around the home carbon monoxide can be produced in fuel-fired furnaces, gas water heaters, fireplaces and woodstoves, gas stoves, gas dryers, charcoal grills, lawnmowers, cigarettes, and of course automobiles ("Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Monoxide Detectors"). Anything that is powered by something other than electricity is most likely a viable source of CO. Carbon monoxide can spill from poorly maintained or blocked chimney and flues of the wrong sized connected to furnaces and water heaters ("What Is Carbon Monoxide?"). Also, vehicles other than automobiles pose a threat. Boats any kind of recreational vehicle power by gas engines are likely candidates. General buildings of any kind can be unsafe as well.

Just like all pollutants, carbon monoxide continuously builds up in the atmosphere making it harder for all animals to breathe. Highway vehicle exhaust is the top contributing factor, accounting for about 60 percent on average and up to 90 percent of all CO emissions nationwide ("Automobiles and Carbon Monoxide"). Other sources of CO emissions include industrial processes and fuel combustion in sources such as boilers and incinerators.

Concentrations were on the rise until the 1970s when the Environmental Protection Agency issued the Clean Air Act which required car manufacturers to build 'greener'cars ("Automobiles and Carbon Monoxide"). These cares were equipped with catalytic converters that converted carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide, reducing CO emissions by up to 80 percent. The converters were redesigned again in the 1980s to be even more efficient and thus began the downward trend of CO concentrations in the environment. Between 1986 and 1995, the national average of CO concentration was reduced by 37 percent, while emissions decreased by 16 percent (Baker).

Home safety is definitely an important approach in protecting against hazardous CO levels. "Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector," says Ken Giles, spokesman with the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, "there are many deaths in the country each year from non-fire-source carbon-monoxide poisoning - most of which could have been prevented with a detector" ("Experts Weigh In On Carbon-Monoxide Detectors"). As for reliability of the detectors, Dr. Neil Hampson states, "They're generally quite reliable now." He also recommends getting the newest in generation detectors with both digital readout and audible alarm meeting the highest standard set by Underwriters Laboratory and International Approval Services. Here are a few suggestions given by United States Environmental Protection Agency on how to maintain a healthy environment at a home ("Carbon Monoxide"):

Keep gas appliances properly adjusted. Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one. Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters. Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves. Open flues when fireplaces are in use. Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly. Have a trained



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