Carbon Monoxide

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 red.

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 hemoglobin-binding sites.

Be careful about anything that burns, for example, improperly adjusted gas space heaters producing too much carbon monoxide.