Carbon monoxide (chemical formula: CO), also known as carbonic/carbonous oxide, is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas. It is slightly lighter than air and can be toxic to both humans and animals at high enough concentrations. The biggest source of carbon monoxide is from nature, with some other natural sources generated by volcanoes, forest fires and other combustion forms. Other sources of carbon monoxide include, wood burning barbeques and fireplaces, portable gas stoves/heaters and diesel/petrol fueled tools such as chainsaws and mowers.
Carbon monoxide has found uses in the chemical and meat industries.
In chemical manufacturing, carbon monoxide is used in combination with many other substances to produce certain chemicals.
Carbon monoxide is added to prepackaged meat products, including pork, beef and fish to give them more of that red colour that appears fresher and more appealing to consumers. The carbon monoxide reacts with myoglobin to form a more stable red pigment that keeps the meat from turning brown and appearing less fresh. This practice has been banned in countries such as Canada, Singapore, The European Union and Japan.
The routes of exposure for carbon monoxide include inhalation and skin and eye contact. Ingestion is not considered likely due to the gaseous state of the chemical.
Inhalation of carbon monoxide may cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system as well as other serious and irreversible damage following just a single event of exposure. Symptoms common with inhalation include, headache, confusion, dizziness, coma, seizures, wheezing, cardiovascular collapse, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and cardiac arrest, among others. Carbon monoxide vapours may displace and replace air, causing it to act as an asphyxiant. The brain and the heart are most sensitive to carbon monoxide poisoning due to the oxygen deprivation it causes. Low level concentrations can cause poor concentration, memory and vision problems, muscular weakness, loss of muscle coordination, vertigo, headaches, nausea and fatigue.
When exposed to skin, carbon monoxide may produce serious and irreversible damage following a single exposure. Whilst the chemical isn’t thought to be a skin irritant, good hygiene practices are recommended to ensure exposure is minimised. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds may also lead to other harmful effects.
Due to its gaseous state, it is not likely to cause eye irritation, however in situations where the gas is concentrated, the chemical may cause irritation, tearing and redness.
If inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source. Keep the patient warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR, preferably with a bag-valve mask device to ensure the safety of the rescuer. Seek medical attention without delay.
Ingestion of carbon monoxide is not considered a normal route of entry.
If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing and footwear and flush the affected area with plenty of running water, using a safety shower if available. Seek medical attention.
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, remove the patient from the contaminated area and take to the nearest eye wash station or emergency shower. Open the eyelids wide to allow the chemical to evaporate. Flush the eyes out with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Transport to hospital.
Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical. Proper ventilation is essential in removing and diluting any air contaminants. If natural ventilation is unavailable, ensure local exhaust is installed.
The PPE recommended when handling carbon monoxide oxide includes, safety glasses with unperforated side shields, chemical goggles, full face respirators, full body protective suits, safety footwear, protective overalls and cloth or leather gloves.
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