Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide Dangerous to Vital Organs

Inhalation of Carbon Monoxide Dangerous to Vital Organs

Repeated inhalation of carbon monoxide, a deadly gas often breathed by fire fighters in the course of fighting fires, and a byproduct of industrial processes and gasoline combustion, may cause serious and cumulative danger to vital functions of the human body.

This was one of a number of major findings in research on carbon monoxide poisoning sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIOCLC, through its John R. Redmond Memorial Fund. The fund financed a two-year study by Dr. Gerald S. Gordon of Denver, Colo., in cooperation with the Denver Fire Department, Local 858 of the IAFF, and the individual members of the local union.

Although carbon monoxide has long been recognized as a fatal gas, little had been known of the effects on the human body of continual exposure to nonfatal doses.

“The primary conclusion of the study, and also the easiest to interpret, is that the fire fighter is liable to a significant exposure to carbon monoxide frequently during the routine course of his occupation,” Dr. Gordon said. He added: “Since it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, and since it easily gains entry into the body by way of the lungs during breathing, carbon monoxide is a particularly treacherous poison. Since it readily displaces oxygen from the blood, carbon monoxide is a particularly effective poison… The best understood net effect of this gas is a deprivation of oxygen to vital organs.”

IAFF President William Howard McClennan, Secretary-Treasurer Albert E. Albertoni, and Redmond Fund Chairman Bernard Bonser of Toronto, Ont., called Dr. Gordon’s findings “a highly significant first step in outlining a littlepublicized hazard of the fire fighter’s profession and a growing hazard to all Americans who five in an urban environment.”

Dr. Gordon’s major findings included:

  1. It is highly probable that changes in blood enzymes suffered by fire fighters engaged in battling fires are the result of carbon monoxide inhalation.
  2. Changes in the blood as a result of inhaling carbon monoxide may bring about some danger to the human organs— the heart, lungs, skeletal muscles, etc.— and this condition could produce significant disease over a lifetime.
  3. Fire fighters require better protection from carbon monoxide. There is an urgent need for research for improved breathing apparatus.

As a public service, the IAFF has published a summary of Dr. Gordon’s findings. The pamphlet is available from the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO-CLC, 905 16th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. A limited number of copies of Dr. Gordon’s research study is also available.

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