The Chemistry of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Introduction

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Carbon monoxide poisoning is when a person or animal is exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide for a long enough period of time and become ill, and in bad cases die.  Carbon monoxide bonds with the hemoglobin in the blood, taking the place of oxygen, and essentially starves the body of oxygen, killings cells and organs.  Mild poisoning or acute poisoning symptoms include lightheadedness, confusion, headache, and flu-like effects.  Larger exposures can lead to death by toxicity of the central nervous system and heart or if it is not as extreme it will harm the central nervous system and heart. I chose this topic because I was interested in learning the chemistry behind what makes it possible for a naturally occurring gas to be capable of killing.  This topic affects everyday life because it is important to know the dangers of fuel powered appliances if not ventilated properly, and the very real danger of carbon monoxide build up, in instances like a running car in a garage.

Composition of ...

The main compounds of carbon monoxide poisoning are carbon monoxide (CO) and hemoglobin (C2932H4724N828O840S8Fe4).

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas.  It is formed by the incomplete combustion of gas and is produced whenever a material burns.  CO can build up when trapped indoors.  Homes with fuel burning appliances or attached garages (due to car exhaust) have a higher chance of having a higher carbon monoxide level.  It could be produced by furnaces or boilers, gas stoves and ovens, fireplaces, water heaters, clothes dryers, wood stoves, and motor vehicles.  The level of carbon monoxide indoors should generally be the same as the outdoors.  A typical could be anywhere from .03-2.5 parts per million (ppm).

Hemoglobin (C2932H4724N828O840S8Fe4) is the protein in red blood cells that attaches to oxygen and carries it through the bloodstream to every cell in the body.  It takes oxygen out of the lungs and returns carbon dioxide (CO2).  Hemoglobin is made up of four protein molecules, two alpha-globulin chains and two beta-globulin chains.  Each globulin chain contains an important iron-containing porphyrin compound called “heme”.


Chemistry's Role

Carbon monoxide is a naturally occurring chemical compound byproduct.  It is made from the incomplete combustion of a carbon based material.  Incomplete combustion occurs when there is not enough air present for each carbon atom to bond with two oxygens, so instead of forming the ideal carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO) is made. It is produced from anytime a material containing carbon is burned, as the carbons then bond with the oxygens and is therefore found in fumes produced whenever you burn fuel, such as in  cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.

Hemoglobin is also a naturally occurring compound.  It is made in the red blood cell and is essential for human life, as it is responsible for the delivery of oxygen throughout the body.  Iron is one of the main elements found in hemoglobin.  Situated at the center of the molecule, seventy percent of the body’s iron is found in the hemoglobin.  When hemoglobin is bonded with oxygen, as it carries it to the cells of the body, is is called oxyhemoglobin, but when bonded with CO it is called carboxyhemoglobin.  When exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide and inhaled, the CO bonds to the hemoglobin.  The CO bonds to the hemoglobin molecule, in place of oxygen, in groups of four; a bond two hundred times stronger than that of oxygen and hemoglobin.  This is a deadly compound for human life.  Not having the oxygen the body needs, cells die.



Background Research

Carbon monoxide poisoning kills 20,000 people annually.  It occurs when organisms are exposed to large amounts of CO for prolonged times.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that can be very dangerous.  Excessive amounts of carbon monoxide can occur due to improper ventilation of any household appliances.  The symptoms of mild poisoning can be lightheadedness, headaches, red face, nausea and other flu-like symptoms.  However, when exposed to greater, excessive amounts, brain damage can occur, as well as damage to the heart which can eventually lead to death.  This happens because the cells in the body are not getting enough oxygen when the hemoglobin bonds to the CO instead of to the oxygen.

Resources

http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm

  • Carbon Monoxide or CO is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill you

  • CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces

  • Can build up when trapped in doors and excessive amounts

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide_poisoning

  • Poisoning occurs after breathing too much CO

  • Mild poisoning or acute poisoning symptoms include lightheadedness, confusion, headache, and flu-like effects

  • Larger exposures can lead to death by toxicity of the central nervous system and heart or if it is not as extreme it will harm the central nervous system and heart

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/carbon_monoxide_poisoning/article_em.htm

  • CO is formed by burning material containing carbon as the carbon then bonds with an oxygen atom in the air

  • Known as the “silent killer”

  • Can be produced by common household appliances when not ventilated properly

  • Prolonged exposure can also lead to brain damage and possibly eventually death

http://www.healthline.com/health/carbon-monoxide-poisoning#Treatment5

  • Best way to treat carbon monoxide poisoning is to inhale pure oxygen

  • Symptoms will appear once the carbon monoxide in one’s blood reaches a level of 70 parts per milliliter (ppm) or higher

http://www.silentshadow.org/chemistry-and-science-behind-carbon-monoxide-poisoning.html

  • Carbon monoxide starves the body’s vital organs of oxygen while destroying cells by displacing the oxygen in the blood

  • When CO is breathed in, it reacts with the hemoglobin in red blood cells forming carboxyhemoglobin (COHb)

  • Bond between haemoglobin and carbon monoxide is 200 times stronger than that of haemoglobin and oxygen (which is what the haemoglobin in the red blood cells needs to be bonded to in the bloodstream and body in order to deliver oxygen around the body to all the organs)

https://fmss12ucheme.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/carbon-monoxide-poisoning-effect-on-hemoglobin-oxygen-equilibrium/

  • Haemoglobin, a protein that contains iron, is responsible for the transportation of oxygen throughout the body

  • Equilibrium conditions of the oxygen-haemoglobin interaction can be represented by:  Hb (aq) + 4O 2 (g) <–> Hb(O 2 ) 4 (aq)

  • “Hb” stands for haemoglobin. Each haemoglobin molecule will attach to four oxygen atoms so as long as there is sufficient oxygen in the air, equilibrium is maintained.

  • CO tricks the hemoglobin into mistaking it for oxygen and bonds with it in groups of four. The equilibrium equation expression becomes: Hb (aq) + 4CO (g) ⇋ Hb(CO) 4 (aq). (1)

  • One of the symptoms is a red face because the carboxyhemoglobin that is formed from the bond between CO and hemoglobin is more red than hemoglobin

http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/co/

  • Hemoglobin- C2932H4724N828O840S8Fe4

  • The level of carbon monoxide indoors should generally be the same as the outdoors. A typical level could be anywhere from .03-2.5 parts per million (ppm)


About the Author
Lydia Zuklic is a junior at Billings Senior High School.  She enjoys learning about how chemistry connects to everyday life.  Lydia is in the Senior High philharmonic orchestra and is on the varsity cheer squad.  She has lettered in both orchestra and cheerleading.  Lydia is enrolled in spanish 3 and is very passionate about school spirit.







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