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Inorganic compound, a highly toxic, colourless, odourless, flammable gas, chemical formula CO. It is produced when carbon (including coal and coke) or carbon-containing fuel (including petroleumhydrocarbons; e.g., gasoline, fuel oil) does not burn completely to carbon dioxide, because of insufficient oxygen. CO is present in the exhaust gases of internal combustion engines and furnaces. It is toxic because it binds to hemoglobin in blood much more strongly than does oxygen and thus interferes with transport of oxygen from lungs to tissues (seehypoxia; respiration). Symptoms of CO poisoning range from headache, nausea, and syncope to coma, weak pulse, respiratory failure, and death. CO is used industrially as a fuel and in synthesis of numerous organic compounds, including methanol, ethylene, and aldehydes.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on carbon monoxide, visit Britannica.com.