CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING

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    A drop of blood contains approximately 300,000 red cells. Each milliliter of blood contains 2,500,000 red cells. In each of the red cells there are about 250,000,000 molecules a hemoglobin. Each of those molecules love to combine (chemically bond) with oxygen molecules. The hemoglobin in the red cells bonds with the oxygen molecules that are moving from the lung into the blood stream. The oxygen moves from the alveoli to the capillaries because of the pressure differential of  high pressure O2 in the lungs to the lower pressure in the returning blood from the body. The oxygen is then carried from the lungs to all cells in the body finally to be released by the hemoglobin to various cells to keep them productive. Without hemoglobin's tremendous means of transport the blood would have to travel 20 times faster to carry the required oxygen in the plasma of the blood alone!

     According to Graham's Law gases travel from high concentration (higher pressure or higher %) to low. The following data table explains why O2 is transported into the blood and tissues and why carbon dioxide is transported out:

AIR LOCATION                      NITROGEN OXYGEN ARGON CARBON DIOXIDE WATER VAPOR
DRY ATMOSPHERE                 78.08%         20.947       0.934                0.03                           0
LUNG AIR                                  75                 14                                       5                                6
ARTERIAL BLOOD                   76                 12                                       6                                6
VENOUS BLOOD                      82                  5                                        6                                7
TISSUE                                       84                   2                                       7                                7

NOTE: SOME CO2 DISSOLVES IN THE FLUIDS
NOTE: GRAHAM'S LAW STATES GASES WILL FLOW FROM THE HIGHER % TO THE LOWER %

     Hemoglobin loves carbon monoxide (CO) 300 times more than oxygen. If you have carbon monoxide in your breathing air the hemoglobin will combine with it before combining with oxygen. Once the hemoglobin becomes carboxyhemoglobin it will not release the CO to the body. In effect, the carboxyhemoglobin no longer functions as an oxygen transport agent. That contaminated red cell will be taken out of service by the spleen. Your blood stream will be systematically destroyed. Death from lack of oxygen will ensue if one continues to breathe a sufficient quantity of carbon monoxide.

     Hemoglobin contains iron atoms in its molecular structure. Iron compounds are very colorful. (Look at iron oxide or rust. It is really a beautiful red color.) When hemoglobin has an oxygen molecule attached to it the iron makes it a bright red color. When the oxygen is released the color turns to a dark red. Blood changes its color! If a carbon monoxide molecule is attached to the hemoglobin the iron combination creates a bright pink color. The lips, fingernails, and other places in the body where the blood comes close to the skin in a person poisoned by carbon monoxide makes them look like a clown. Carboxyhemoglobin is an undertaker's delight!

     How do divers encounter carbon monoxide? How could it get into their scuba tank? Poor compressor operation, poor filtration, and /or a contaminated air source going into the compressor are the responsible agents. If a compressor runs too fast it may get overheated causing a dieseling effect. The oil in the compressor ignites creating carbon monoxide. Running a compressor near the exhaust of an automobile, gasoline-powered lawn mower, a smoking chimney, etc. can cause CO to enter the air supply. The hopcalite in the compressor filter is there to remove CO by changing it to CO2. If the filter is overwhelmed or wet it may not do the job.

     Breathing carbon monoxide contaminated air usually produces a headache as a preliminary symptom. Dizziness, drowsiness, and unconsciousness follow prior to death.

     Incidentally, smoking 30 cigarettes each day results in the smoker's blood maintaining a constant level of 10% carboxyhemoglobin! 

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