Let’s Talk About Carbon Monoxide (CO)

What Is It?

Carbon monoxide, often abbreviated as CO, is a gas produced by burning fossil fuel. What makes it such a silent killer is its odorless and colorless properties. It is extremely difficult to detect until the body has inhaled a detrimental amount of the gas, and if inhaled in high concentrations, it can be fatal. Carbon monoxide causes tissue damage by blocking the body’s ability to absorb enough oxygen. In fact, poisoning from this gas is one of the leading causes of unintentional death from poison.

Here are some common household sources that can emit carbon monoxide:

  • Kerosene or fuel-based heaters
  • Chimneys, furnaces, and
  • Gas water heaters
  • Wood stoves and gas stoves
  • Fireplaces
  • Charcoal grills
  • Gasoline powered equipment and
    generators (such as houseboats)
  • Automobile exhaust
  • Portable generators
  • Tobacco smoke
Risk Factor

Some factors can place certain individuals at a higher risk for carbon monoxide poisoning than others.

  • Babies. Infants cannot express elaborate signs and symptoms, so their crying can be misinterpreted as discomforts other than carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to place the crib in a well-ventilated area to decrease the risk.
  • Individuals who smoke. Chronic smokers have a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a weaker respiratory system. Signs and symptoms of poisoning may be confused with side effects of smoking and neglected.
  • Individuals who drink often. Those who abuse alcohol tend to be desensitized towards signs and symptoms of all ailments, including carbon monoxide poisoning. Since alcohol-induced slumber is also very deep, death by carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping is a lot higher in those who often drink heavily.
  • Individuals who have heart or respiratory problems. Since many signs of carbon monoxide poisoning coincides with heart or respiratory symptoms, people who already suffer from one of the latter two conditions may be more at risk.
  • Individuals who work with gas-powered equipment. Those who often work with equipment fueled by gasoline are at an occupational risk of CO poisoning. Studies have shown operating such machinery in a ventilated space still poses high risk; be sure to share such concerns with your employer and study the safety manuals to decrease occupational hazards associated with CO poisoning.
Signs and Symptoms

When signs and symptoms of CO poisoning are not addressed, permanent damage to the brain and cardiovascular system can occur, followed by death. If you are experiencing the following signs and symptoms, you may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to immediately check your heating systems for a possible leak.

  • Dull headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment and irritability
  • Paranoia or erratic mood swings
  • Portable generators
  • In worst cases, loss of consciousness and death

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning is often confused with the flu, alcohol intoxication, or sea sickness. One way to confirm symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is to leave the house or suspected area. If the signs and symptoms disappear after leaving, it might indicate a gas leak. To be safe, be sure to open the windows and seek fresh air immediately if experiencing any such symptoms, and call 911 when it is confirmed.


Here are some tips that can be used to minimize your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Keep your garage well ventilated
  • Never start your car in an enclosed garage space
  • Conduct periodic checks of your household industrial heaters and gas appliances
  • Follow the instruction manual on proper operation of gas-fueled machinery
  • Invest in a carbon monoxide detector
  • Keep your house well-ventilated
  • Use electrical powered heat generators rather than fireplaces

Carbon monoxide is a useful gas when it is regulated and contained within the proper equipment. Be sure to understand this gas so you know how to properly handle it should you experience a leak.


Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is formed from the combination of a carbon atom with an oxygen atom. Not only flammable, it is also very hazardous since it is very toxic and odorless. It cannot sustain life and is produced, among other things, from incomplete combustion due to lack of oxygen. It can therefore cause domestic accidents if heating systems are poorly maintained. It is produced on a large scale in industry, in combination with hydrogen, by reforming hydrocarbons, generally natural gas. It is used in large quantities to produce various intermediary organic chemicals, such as acetic acids, isocyanates, formic acid, and also certain polymers such as polycarbonates and polyketones.


Carbon monoxide and synthesis gas are the raw materials in the polycarbonate, polyurethane and oxy-alcohol manufacture based on SMR and ATR processes or on partial oxidation.

Carbon monoxide is also used in the manufacturing of metal carbonyls.

Laboratories & Analysis

Carbon monoxide is used in calibration gas mixtures for petrochemical industry; environmental emission monitoring, industrial hygiene monitors and trace impurity analyzers.

Gas Properties

Molecular Weight

Molecular weight: 28.01 g/mol

Solid Phase

Latent heat of fusion (1,013 bar, at triple point) : 27.873 kJ/kg

Liquid Phase

Liquid density (1.013 bar at boiling point): 788.6 kg/m3
Liquid/gas equivalent (1.013 bar and 15° C (59° F)): 674 vol/vol
Boiling point (1.013 bar): -191.6° C
Latent heat of vaporization (1.013 bar at boiling point): 214.85 kJ/kg

Critical Point

Critical temperature: -140.3° C
Critical pressure: 34.987 bar
Critical density : 301 kg/m3

Triple Point

Triple point temperature: -205.1° C
Triple point pressure: 0.1535 bar

Gaseous Phase

Gas density (1.013 bar at boiling point): 4.355 kg/m3
Gas density (1.013 bar and 15° C (59° F)): 1.184 kg/m3
Compressibility Factor (Z) (1.013 bar and 15° C (59° F)): 0.9996
Specific gravity (air = 1) (1.013 bar and 21° C (70° F)): 0.968
Specific volume (1.013 bar and 21° C (70° F)): 0.862 m3/kg
Heat capacity at constant pressure (Cp) (1.013 bar and 15.6° C (60° F)): 0.029 kJ/(mol.K)
Heat capacity at constant volume (Cv) (1.013 bar and 15.6° C (60° F)): 0.02 kJ/(mol.K)
Ratio of specific heats (Gamma:Cp/Cv) (1.013 bar and 15.6° C (60° F)): 1.402488
Viscosity (1.013 bar and 0° C (32° F)): 0.0001662 Poise
Thermal conductivity (1.013 bar and 0° C (32° F)): 23.027 mW/(m.K)


Solubility in water (1.013 bar and 0° C (32° F)): 0.0352 vol/vol
Solubility in water (1.013 bar and 20° C (68° F)): 0.0227 vol/vol
Autoignition temperature: 630° C

Sources of Carbon Monoxide in the Environment

General combustion processes

Incomplete combustion of carbon-containing compounds creates varying amounts of carbon monoxide. The chemical and physical processes that occur during combustion are complex because they depend not only on the type of carbon compound reacting with oxygen, but also on the conditions existing in the combustion chamber (Pauling, 1960; Mellor, 1972). Despite the complexity of the combustion process, certain general principles regarding the formation of carbon monoxide from the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels are accepted widely.

Gaseous or liquid hydrocarbon fuel reacts with oxygen in a chain of reactions that result in the formation of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide then reacts with hydroxyl radicals to form carbon dioxide. The second reaction is approximately 10 times slower than the first. In coal combustion, too, the reaction of carbon and oxygen to form carbon monoxide is one of the primary reactions, and a large fraction of carbon atoms go through the carbon monoxide form. Again, the conversion of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide is much slower. Four basic variables control the concentration of carbon monoxide produced in the combustion of all hydrocarbon fuels: (1) oxygen concentration, (2) flame temperature, (3) gas residence time at high temperatures and (4) combustion chamber turbulence. Oxygen concentration affects the formation of both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, because oxygen is required in the initial reactions with the fuel molecule and in the formation of the hydroxyl radical. As the availability of oxygen increases, more complete conversion of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide results. Flame and gas temperatures affect both the formation of carbon monoxide and the conversion of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide, because both reaction rates increase exponentially with increasing temperature. Also, the hydroxyl radical concentration in the combustion chamber is very temperature dependent. The conversion of carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide is also enhanced by longer residence time, because this is a relatively slow reaction in comparison with carbon monoxide formation. Increased gas turbulence in the combustion zones increases the actual reaction rates by increasing the mixing of the reactants and assisting the relatively slower gaseous diffusion process, thereby resulting in more complete combustion.

Erin Brockovich to show off emissions reducing magnets at SEMA

Erin BrokovichFamed environmental bulldog Erin Brockovich who also acts as vice president of environmental affairs at Save the World Air Inc. (STWA) will be showing off two of the company’s emissions reducing and fuel saving product lines at this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show.

Technology which incorporates magnets to bring a molecular change in gasoline or diesel before combustion, facilitating a change in viscosity and surface tension. Using ZEFS, the engine is capable of producing a more efficient burn significantly lowering the emissions of HC, NOx and CO. This will reduce harmful emissions while it maximizes fuel savings and performance.

I hadn’t heard of using magnets to reduce hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide until I read a press release, but apparently there’s something to it. STWA claims that in certified laboratory testing, magnetic devices have reduced air pollution by as much as 85 percent; improved power by 19 percent; and enhanced fuel efficiency up to 33 percent.