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Carbon Monoxide
2010-03-18

Carbon Monoxide

Is poisoning due to the exhaust fumes resulting from carbon burning with insufficient oxygen to produce complete oxidation. The resulting gas has one atom of carbon and one atom of oxygen. CO is odorless, colorless and cannot be tasted. CO poisoning may not be distinguished from fatigue or hypoxia except that the occurrence can occur at any altitude. Engine exhaust in an aircraft has 7% CO. Very small amounts of CO over a period of time will reduce a pilot’s ability to fly safely. It is the length of exposure as well as the amount that makes the critical difference. Susceptibility to CO poisoning increases with altitude due to the propensity of CO to enter blood. CO is 200 times more attracted to the blood hemoglobin as is oxygen. As little as one part CO to 20,000 (.005%) parts of air is enough to begin the death process of the brain.

Above 10% CO poisoning you will suffer from a headache. Above 20% you will be sleepy and sick to your stomach, HEADACHE, vision and speech problems. You will be incapacitated above 40% and dead at 70%. If you get a headache while flying, open the window and shut off heater.

CO reduces ability of blood to carry oxygen. Symptoms are similar to hypoxia. Headache, drowsiness, dizziness should initially be corrected by opening outside air vents. CO has a half-life in your body of about five hours. It will take a full day to recover. 70% of exhaust system failures result in CO poisoning. CO prevents the hemoglobin from both carrying and releasing oxygen. Antihistamines, alcohol, lack of sleep, or blood deficiency will exacerbate CO poisoning. Prevention of CO poisoning is directly preventable by proper aircraft maintenance. Club aircraft require extra alertness. You might suspect CO exists in your cabin air as soon as you smell some engine exhaust fumes.

Descend
Land ASAP
Use any oxygen
Shut off the heater
Get medical treatment
When in doubt, get on the ground.

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