An Overview of Sources of Carbon Monoxide

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Carbon monoxide is a gaseous byproduct of combustion.Carbon monoxide is produced in nature by volcanoes and shifting tectonic plates. When the Earth was first formed carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere as plates shifted and mountains formed. Carbon monoxide is still present in the Earth's atmosphere, making up approximately 0.00003 percent of the Earth's total atmosphere.

Fossil fuels, like gasoline, kerosene, coal, natural gas, oil and propane produce carbon monoxide when they haven't been burned, or used, completely. Incomplete combustion occurs when a lack of, or limited amount of, oxygen is present in the burning environment.

Under normal conditions, when sufficient oxygen is present, carbon breaks down into particles that contain two oxygen molecules. This is represented by the chemical formula CO2. When oxygen is limited carbon molecules break down into compounds containing only one oxygen molecule forming carbon monoxide. This is represented by the chemical formula CO.

The amount of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere has increased with the rise of manufacturing and automobile usage. Industrial processes like smelting require high amounts of heat. Coke, a form of almost pure carbon, burns with the intensity required to fuel this process and release high amount of carbon monoxide.

The gas is also used as a way to extract ore from metals. Catalytic converters are mechanisms found in modern vehicles that work to convert high amounts of carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide isn't poisonous like carbon monoxide and has less of a negative impact on the environment.

When generators, heaters and other household appliances, like washers and dryers, malfunction they fail to burn carbon efficiently. Inefficient burning and lack of oxygen causes high amounts of carbon monoxide that have the potential to cause fatalities to humans and animals within its vicinity.

Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by installing carbon monoxide detectors throughout your household. These detectors are able to monitor the amount of the carbon monoxide in your home. Since the gas is odorless and colorless it is not possible to monitor its presence without detector.

Avoid setting the detector off by ensuring that your home is well ventilated, that appliances are in good condition and that outdoor equipment like grills and motor engines are not running indoors.

Carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas because it kills silently. Victims fall asleep and continue breathing the toxin until they are no longer able to breathe. Knowing how the gas is produced is one way to avoid falling victim to it.

Other references:

The Basics of Earth Science, Robert E. Krebs, pages 200 and 203

More about this author: Catherine Duffy

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