Carbon monoxide (CO): sources and health impacts

Every winter, when temperatures drop, carbon monoxide unfortunately comes back into the spotlight. This gas is emitted mainly by ageing or poorly maintained heating appliances and spreads very quickly in the environment and can quickly become dangerous in confined spaces. Every year, carbon monoxide is responsible for approximately 450 deaths and 20,000 nonfatal injuries every year.

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Summary

What is carbon monoxide?
What are the sources of carbon monoxide?
What are the health risks of carbon monoxide poisoning?
What is the impact of carbon monoxide on the environment?
How to protect yourself and measure carbon monoxide?

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a molecule composed of one carbon atom (C) and one oxygen atom (O). In its gaseous state, this molecule (CO) is completely colourless and odourless and is not detectable by humans because it does not irritate the eyes or respiratory tract.  This gas diffuses rapidly in the atmosphere and is absorbed by the lungs during breathing. It is a very toxic gas for humans.

What are the sources of carbon monoxide?

CO is released during combustion, especially if it is incomplete.

The largest outdoor sources of carbon monoxide are road traffic with vehicles and combustion engines, power plants, wildfires and residential heating, especially wood burning.

Indoor,  there are also a variety of items that can be sources of CO such as paraffin, propane and gas heaters, fireplaces, boilers, etc. which, when faulty or misused, can affect indoor air quality. Tobacco smoke is also a source of CO.

What are the health risks of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide binds to the haemoglobin in the blood instead of oxygen. Breathing air with a high concentration of CO reduces the body’s ability to transport oxygen to critical organs such as the heart and brain.

At high concentrations and in a confined environment (indoor air), carbon monoxide can cause carbon monoxide poisoning with several symptoms: headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness, and even coma or death for prolonged exposure. The severity of the symptoms depends on the duration of exposure and the concentration of carbon monoxide inhaled.

*Carbon monoxide poisoning

Health symptoms of carbon monoxide

Exposure to carbon monoxide can be particularly dangerous for:

👶🏼 Newborns : fetal blood cells absorb carbon monoxide more readily than adult blood cells. Unborn babies are therefore more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

👦🏼 Children : they have a higher respiratory rate than adults and therefore inhale a greater volume of gas, which can make them more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning.

🧓🏼 Elderly people :  victims of carbon monoxide poisoning, they are more likely to develop brain damage.

😷 People with chronic disease: people with a history of anaemia and respiratory problems are also more likely to become ill from carbon monoxide exposure.

What is the impact of carbon monoxide on the environment?

Carbon dioxide can react with other air pollutants to form tropospheric ozone or carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a greenhouse gas.

How to protect yourself and measure carbon monoxide (CO)?

Regarding indoor exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) here are some preventive measures you can take to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning:

Before the winter period

Check the heating system (boiler, stove, etc.), the hot water production system, but also have your chimney swept by a qualified professional.

Act and protect yourself from carbon monoxide

👉 Air each room in the home for at least 10 minutes every day and never block air inlets and outlets;

👉  Install an air quality sensor (equipped with a carbon monoxide detector) to monitor carbon monoxide;

👉 Do not cook indoors with outdoor appliances (braziers, barbecues…) and do not heat a room with them;

👉 Never run space heaters continuously: they are designed for brief and intermittent use only.

Measuring and monitoring carbon monoxide (CO) with Meersens solutions

To monitor outdoor air pollution and in particular carbon dioxide, Meersens offers a multi-platform solution (SaaS, App, IoT, API) that can be easily deployed to monitor and analyse all major air pollutants (CO2, NO2, PM…) to contribute to a better and healthier future.Contact us for more information!

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