Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide – (CO)

Carbon monoxide is a very dangerous gas for human beings. It is extremely toxic yet it is invisible and odourless making it even more dangerous as it can only be detected by measuring devices. CO is formed as a result of incomplete combustion of carbon fuel e.g. gas/coal. It may be formed due to a lack of air, too much excess air or flames cooling too quickly. It can get into rooms via defect, badly maintained, falsely adjusted heating systems.

Just 0.16% (1600ppm) can lead to death within 2 hours and only 1.28% (12800pp,) can cause death within 1-3 minutes. Thus it is highly important that concentrations are measured often and thoroughly.

The recommended exposure limit from the HSE is just 0.005% (50ppm).

Carbon Monoxide Detectors

In industry Carbon monoxide is usually measured using electrochemical sensors in either a single or in a multi gas meter, but carbon monoxide can also be a problem in the home thus there are also several types of detection devices for the home. Early CO detectors are very basic white or beige elements that fade to a brownish blackish colour if CO is present. These are still widely available but now there are more advanced audible detectors available. The detector will set off an alarm if the levels of carbon monoxide get too high. Detectors should be placed near the floor or the ceiling as CO has a density very close to that of air. Alarms should be installed according to the instructions & they should be checked regularly.

CO detectors work differently to smoke detectors in that they don’t simply have an alarm level where they will go off but they work on a concentration-time function. For example at low concentrations such as 100 parts per million (ppm) the detector may not sound an alarm for many tens of minutes but if the concentration reaches high levels e.g. 400ppm the alarm will go off within a few minutes. The detector does this as it is trying to mimic the uptake of CO by the body and it aims to prevent false alarms due to common sources of CO such as cigarette smoke.

If the CO detector does go off it is important that action is taken immediately such as opening all doors & windows, turning off gas fires & even evacuating the premises. Symptoms of CO poisoning may include confusion, nausea, headaches, dizziness and vomiting etc. If you suspect you are suffering from CO poisoning you must seek medical advice immediately as exposure to high levels of CO can be fatal.

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