Carbon monoxide (CO) results from burning anything containing carbon in the
presence of insufficient oxygen, so instead of two oxygen molecules attaching to
carbon to form carbon dioxide (CO2), only one is attached to form
carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide binds to the iron in hemoglobin much more
tightly than oxygen. Once carbon monoxide fills up all the oxygen-binding sites
in hemoglobin, forget about breathing because it won/t do you any good.
It's easy to be killed by carbon monoxide because it's odorless. Waterskiers
have been killed by carbon monoxide while waiting in the water behind their tow
boats with the outboard engine running.
What's doubly dangerous about carbon monoxide is that the victims look nice
and pink, not dusky and blue, even though they're dying from lack of oxygen.
Hemoglobin turns bright red whether it binds oxygen or carbon monoxide. In fact,
the tip-off to carbon monoxide poisoning is that the victim's lips are too
Breathing 100% oxygen will eventually displace carbon monoxide off the
hemoglobin, but the fastest way to displace carbon monoxide is to get into a
hyperbaric chamber where the atmospheric (and oxygen) pressure can be raised
high enough for oxygen to successfully fight carbon monoxide for the
Be careful about anything that burns, for example, improperly adjusted gas
space heaters producing too much carbon monoxide.