Toxicants are synthetic substances that might cause injury, disease, death or other defects in living creatures through inhalation, ingestion, absorption or by changing the environment around the organism. On the other hand, toxins are substances produced naturally by living plants and animals. On a daily basis, we come across synthetic chemicals which surround our environment. Example of toxicants include perfumes, household cleaners, detergents, cosmetics, solvents, plastics and the harmful products that arise from burning fossil fuels. Antibiotics, pesticides, drugs, herbicides, food additives and preservatives also fall under toxicants. Environmental pollutants are toxicants that are harmful, unwanted and which cause pollution. Toxicants pollute our surroundings through the soil, water, and air.
This essay focuses on carbon monoxide, a toxicant that results from air pollution. Air pollution is the contamination of air by harmful gases such as carbon dioxide, Sulphur diffarmingoxide, and carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a highly poisonous gas which has no odor, taste, or color. It assumes the chemical formula CO which represents one molecule of carbon and one molecule of oxygen. Carbon monoxide production results from incomplete burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum, kerosene, gasoline, diesel fuel and natural gas. Wildfires, burning of wood and charcoal can also produce carbon monoxide. Many appliances that utilize these types of fuels also add carbon monoxide to the environment. Automobile exhaust, as well as tobacco smoke, also contribute to the production of this harmful toxicant.
Although CO is vital in separating metals from their ores, significant amounts of this gas pose a threat to the environment. These essay goes further to explain the exposure limits of this gas, how people are exposed, the toxic effects and the possibility of the toxicant being carcinogenic.
Exposure limits of Carbon monoxide
According to the Occupational Safety and Administration (OSHA), the permissible exposure limits (PEL) for carbon monoxide are as follows:
Final Rule Transitional
35 ppm Time Weighted Average (TWA)
200 ppm Ceiling (229 mg/m3) 50 ppm Time Weighted Average (TWA) (55 mg/m3)
1,500 ppm Instantaneous
("Sampling and Analytical Methods | Carbon Monoxide In Workplace Atmospheres (Direct-Reading Monitor) | Occupational Safety and Health Administration," n.d.)
How an Individual may be exposed
Carbon monoxide exposure through inhalation is common in most people but varies in the levels. Vehicle exhaust, through the years, has been the most common source of carbon monoxide. Certain areas and times of day that experience traffic tends to have high amounts of CO than places of little traffic ("ATSDR - Public Health Statement: Carbon Monoxide," n.d.).
Another way in which an individual can get exposed to carbon monoxide is through tobacco smoke either from first or second-hand smoking. In instances of emergency power outages, the use of a wrongly vented generator, gas grills, hibachis, and charcoal grill indoors can increase the hazardous levels of the toxicant ("Tox Town - Carbon Monoxide - Toxic chemicals and environmental health risks where you live and work - Text Version," n.d.).
An individual can be exposed to carbon monoxide either at work or home when operating gasoline powered machinery or vehicles in enclosed areas. These tools and gadgets such as pressure washers and compressors emit high quantities of CO in a limited amount of time ("ATSDR - Public Health Statement: Carbon Monoxide," n.d.).
Exposure to carbon monoxide can be through gas appliances or wood burning cookers and fireplaces. If the fuel-burning home appliances do not function properly or are not well vented, a rise in carbon monoxide levels occurs. Similarly, one can get exposed once a car is left running in the garage, by the use of clothes dryers and stoves for house heating.
Finally, exposure happens at the workplace. Jobs such as coal mining, firefighting, traffic police officer, transport mechanic, toll booth operator are a few examples. An individual interacting with smelters, blast furnaces, ovens or recreational boats and watercrafts is also prone to exposure ("Tox Town - Carbon Monoxide - Toxic chemicals and environmental health risks where you live and work - Text Version," n.d.).
Toxic effects of Carbon monoxide
Exposure to carbon monoxide poses many health risks. High levels of this toxic gas results in carbon monoxide poisoning which can cause comas, convulsions, and even death. Elevated levels of CO also interferes with coordination, vision, while causing headaches, dizziness, unconsciousness, weakness, confusion, as well as nausea.
For pregnant ladies, exposure can lead to miscarriages or can increase the risk of damaging a developing fetus. Furthermore, exposure may result in babies with nervous system damage while registering low birth weights (Penny & CRC Press, 2008, p. 31).
Poisoning from carbon monoxide occurs sooner in small children, expectant women, the elderly, people suffering from anemia, heart or lung disease, people living at high altitudes and the ones who smoke cigarettes regularly (Penny & CRC Press, 2008, p. 32).
Exposure to low levels of the gas also produces some effects on the body. Individuals exposed to low concentrations may experience difficulty breathing, fatigue, sweating, chest pains, memory loss, flu-like symptoms, and skin lesions. In addition to the effects mentioned above, long term exposure to low levels poses the threat of getting heart complications as well as causing nervous system damage. Frostbite also might occur when an individual comes into contact with liquid carbon monoxide mostly at the workplace.
Carcinogenic effects of Carbon monoxide
If a substance is carcinogenic, then it means that it can cause cancer. Even though there are no tests on humans and animals investigating whether CO exposure causes cancer, there is not much credible information that would point out any carcinogenic potential on carbon monoxide.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and EPA have not categorized carbon monoxide as a cancer causing toxicant (NTP 2005; IARC 2009; EPA 2009).
In conclusion, although carbon monoxide is useful in separating metals from their ores and cannot cause cancer, exposure to CO is dangerous since it can cause heart, brain failure among other harmful effects. It is advisable to contact a healthcare professional once someone thinks they have been exposed.
ATSDR - Public Health Statement: Carbon Monoxide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=1146&tid=253
Penney, D. G., & CRC Press. (2008). Carbon monoxide poisoning. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Sampling and Analytical Methods | Carbon Monoxide In Workplace Atmospheres (Direct-Reading Monitor) | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/dts/sltc/methods/inorganic/id209/id209.html
Tox Town - Carbon Monoxide - Toxic chemicals and environmental health risks where you live and work - Text Version. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/text_version/chemicals.php?id=7
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