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Historical Overview of Carbon Monoxide

History of Carbon Monoxide

  • "Coal fumes lead to heavy head and death" - First mention of the lethal effects of coal fumes --- Aristotle, Greece, 3rd century B.C.
  • Inhabitants of Nuceria killed by CO suffocation in the bath --- Hannibal, Carthage, 247-183 B.C.
  • Coal fumes were used for suicide and execution --- Cicero, Rome, 106-43 B.C.; suicide of Roman author Seneca, 65 A.D.
  • A combustible gas that burned with a bright blue flame described --- Joseph Priestley, England, 1772
  • First clinical description of coal gas poisoning --- Harmant, France, 1775
  • CO identified as the toxic substance in coal gas --- LeBlanc, France, 1842
  • Shown that CO produces hypoxia by reversible combination with hemoglobin --- Claude Bernard, France, 1857
  • Demonstration that rats survive CO poisoning when placed in oxygen at 2 atmospheres pressure --- John Scott Haldane, England, 1895
  • Polar explorer Richard Byrd nearly loses life as result of chronic CO poisoning --- early 20th century
  • 611 CO-related deaths occur in New York City from use of illuminating gas --- 1927
  • Treatment of CO poisoning with Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) in experimental animals --- End & Long, U.S., 1942
  • First clinical use of HBO therapy in CO poisoning --- Smith & Sharp, 1960
  • International tennis star Vitas Gerulaitus loses life in CO accident involving a pool heater, September, 1994
  • Use as euthanasia agent by medical suicide advocate, Jack Kevorkian, M.D. --- 1990s

Note: It has been suggested based on his writings that the famous American author, Edgar Allan Poe, was chronically poisoned by carbon monoxide, probably contained in illuminating gas. Poe died November 17, 1875, 32 years of age.


Used with permission from the author David G. Penney, PH.D.
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