Carbon Monoxide Detector

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Carbon Monoxide Detector: An important line of defense for the ones you love



If you are currently depending upon a UL Listed Low Level Carbon Monoxide Alarm that you purchased from your local retailer to alert you of dangerous levels of CO in your home then you are gambling with your family's well-being.

You see, UL Listed Low Level Carbon Monoxide Alarms are purposely negligent in their design. Let us explain why.


by George Kerr

The Chicago Story, actually started in 1988, in Bethesda, Maryland, when the CPSC decided to make Carbon Monoxide, (and Combustible Gases), "Priority Projects" for 1992-93. (It is the CPSC Policy to select "Priority Projects" 4 or 5 years in advance).

The first "Official Announcement" of this decision was made in 1990. That is when I was contacted again by Don Switzer, who had been selected as the CO Project Director, and Don, Mark Goldstein, President of the Quantum Group and yours truly, started laying the "groundwork" for the "Official" CO Project "Kick-Off" in 1992.

Our CPSC CO Project "team" pushed the formation of a UL CO Committee to start working on a "CO Standard" for detectors. At the same time we started working with the Canadian Gas Association, to also form a CO Technical Committee to develop a Compatible Canadian CO Standard Requirement.

Therefore, with these efforts underway ... THE STAGE HAD BEEN SET!

In November, 1991, ... FATE ... STEPPED ... IN ...

On Thursday, November 7, 1991, in Roseville, Minnesota, a family of ten (10), the entire family of Dr. Thomas & Ginny Lange, were overcome by Carbon Monoxide and rushed to the hospital in nearby St. Paul, MN where, fortunately, ALL were saved. (This incident was later featured on a Rescue 911 t.v. program on Tuesday, December 15, 1992).

The VERY NEXT DAY, Friday, November 8, 1991, another family of ten (10), were FAR LESS fortunate. The ENTIRE Jesus Orejel family were found dead in their home in Chicago.

These two back-to-back Carbon Monoxide poisoning cases were all that the "aspiring & politically minded" Chicago Alderman needed. He SEIZED the opportunity to capture a HUGE amount of print and TV coverage by DEMANDING daily (not the Mayor) ... day after day ... that Chicago MUST, MUST, MUST pass a MANDATORY CO Detector Ordinance!!!

Naturally, the CO Detector manufacturers, dealers & distributors; as well as the major retailers ALL thought that he was a "gift from heaven", and "backed" his "play" to the MAX.

I was contacted by Bob Rivkin, Chicago City Attorney, asking for my opinion and input on the proposed CO Ordinance. I must say that I was NOT at all surprised to learn that my "warnings" ... (that NEITHER the CO Standard or the Sensor Technologies, being used in that "Generation" of CO Detectors would Prove to be an acceptable solution due to the resulting excessive, "False/Nuisance" alarms) were totally ignored.

The Chicago CO Ordinance was PASSES and became effective October 1, 1994.

Between Oct 1, 1994 and March 1, 1995, the Chicago (NOT Chicago area) fire department actually responded to 17, 182 residential CO Detector Activations.

During a "Temperature Inversion", on Dec 21 & 22, 1994, the Chicago Fire Dept. actually responded to 3,465 CO Detector Activations, (within 48 hours) ... before saying ENOUGH IS ENOUGH and started asking people "IF THEY FEEL SICK ENOUGH TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL ... IF NOT ... they were told to call the Gas Company!!! (These figures are from a Speech given by: Chief John Eversole, Chief of Hazmat, City of Chicago, at the "Firehouse Conference in Baltimore, MD in 1995).

The WORST part of this "Story", is that 90% of the CO Detectors/Alarms that are hanging on the walls of the homes in North America, TODAY, are STILL these SAME, INFERIOR "TYPES" of SENSORS!!! VIRTUALLY NONE OF THESE SENSORS ARE MONITORED!!!

Let us HOPE that other "good intentioned people DO NOT MAKE THIS SAME MISTAKE ... ON AN EVEN LARGER SCALE."

I would like to point out that "MOST" of the claims being made by CO Alarm Manufacturers that they have vastly improved their products which has greatly reduced the number of false/nuisance alarms IS A BIG BUNCH OF BS.

The reason that the number of CO Alarm responses made by fire departments and utility companies has DECREASED is because, as the GRI Report reveals, that 75.4% of the people answering their SURVEY said that when their CO Alarm activates, they call NO ONE!!!

They have "Heard" about ALL of the "Defective CO Alarms and "JUST ASSUME" that it is a "FALSE ALARM" ... A SERIOUS PROBLEM ... BECAUSE when you IGNORE the warning of an alarm .. IT CAN KILL YOU!


What is carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. Although it has no detectable odor, CO is often mixed with other gases that do have an odor. So, you can inhale carbon monoxide right along with gases that you can smell and not even know that CO is present. CO is a common hazard resulting from the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, or wood. Forges, blast furnaces and coke ovens produce CO.

How does CO harm you?

Carbon monoxide is harmful when breathed because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen. Large amounts of CO can overcome you in minutes without warning—causing you to lose consciousness and suffocate. Besides tightness across the chest, initial symptoms of CO poisoning may include headache, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, or nausea. Sudden chest pain may occur in people with angina. During prolonged or high exposures, symptoms may worsen and include vomiting, confusion, and collapse in addition to loss of consciousness and muscle weakness. Symptoms vary widely from person to person. CO poisoning may occur sooner in those most susceptible: young children, elderly people, people with lung or heart disease, people at high altitudes, or those who already have elevated CO blood levels, such as smokers. Also, CO poisoning poses a special risk to fetuses. CO poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. But even if you recover, acute poisoning may result in permanent damage to the parts of your body that require a lot of oxygen such as the heart and brain. Significant reproductive risk is also linked to CO.

Indoor Air Quality Carbon monoxide (CO)

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. Deaths are usually caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from combustion in poorly ventilated enclosures. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are: headache, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness and confusion. The severity of symptoms depends on the concentration of gas. Low level exposure produces chronic, flu-like symptoms and is usually not recognized.

Carbon monoxide gas is produced when fossil fuel burns incompletely because of insufficient oxygen. During incomplete combustion, the carbon and hydrogen combine to form carbon dioxide, water, heat, and deadly carbon monoxide. In properly installed and maintained appliances gas burns clean and produces only small amounts of carbon monoxide. Anything which disrupts the burning process or results in a shortage of oxygen can increase carbon monoxide production. Wood, coal, and charcoal fires always produce carbon monoxide, as do gasoline engines. Exposures in parts per million (PPM)

  • Low-level Exposure (less than 35ppm): of carbon monoxide poisoning can be confused with flu-like symptoms, food positioning or other illnesses and can have significant long-term health risks if left untreated.
  • High Level Exposure (more than 35 ppm; less than 70 ppm): Severe throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate.
  • Crisis Level Exposure (more than 70 ppm): Unconsciousness, convulsions, cardio respiratory failure, death.

9 ppm - Maximum allowable CO in living space for 8 hours (ASHRAE)

9 ppm - Maximum allowable outdoors 8 hours (EPA)

15 - 30 ppm - First level reported to cause harmful affects (World Health Organization)

30 ppm - Earliest onset of exercise induced angina (World Health Organization)

50 ppm - The maximum allowable concentration for continuous exposure for healthy adults in any 8 hour periods, as recommended by the Occupational Safety and Healthy Administration (OSHA) in a work environment.

70 ppm - First level U.L. approved alarms must go off 2 - 4 hours

200 ppm - Slight headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea after 2 - 3 hours.

400 ppm - Frontal headaches within 1 - 2 hours, life threatening after 3 hours.

800 ppm - Dizziness, nausea and convulsions within 45 minutes. Unconsciousness within 2 hours. Death within 2 - 3 hours.


The critically of chronically ill, pregnant women, infants and others with respiratory difficulties can be impacted earlier and experience more adverse effects.

Sources: Combustion - furnaces, boilers, space-heaters, stove tops, hot water heaters ( gas), clothes dryers (gas), wood stoves, fireplaces, BBQ's, tobacco smoking, combustion engines, candles, incense, kerosene lanterns, propane appliances.

Our recommendation: safe concentration levels are 0 ( zero), the hazard increases dramatically above 30 PPM. Average occupational exposures above 10PPM (sustained through the work day) are unacceptable if your goal is normal function and good health long term. Smokers provide their own personal supply of carbon monoxide and may have exposure levels above safe limits when their personal CO exposure is added to ambient air exposure.


  1. Stain indicator tubes - only useful for screening industrial environments.
  2. electronic devices - use transducers for continuous monitoring
  3. electrochemical devices - accuracy +/- 5%


When Carbon Monoxide is inhaled, the CO combines with the hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin or COHb. The CO displaces the oxygen on hemoglobin. The COHb bond is over 200 times stronger than oxygen's bond with hemoglobin. The strong COHb bond also makes it difficult for the body to eliminate CO from the blood. Carbon Monoxide can poison slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations.. Sensitive organs such as the brain, heart, and lungs suffer the most from a lack of oxygen. Unfortunately, the symptoms of CO poisoning are easily mistaken for other common illnesses and CO poisonings are often misdiagnosed.

Symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and fatigue are common to a number of illnesses such as the flu or the common cold. These symptoms can occur with a COHb blood saturation levels of 10-30%. At 30-50% COHb symptoms are nausea, severe headaches, dizziness, and increased pulse and respiration. COHb levels over 50% cause progressive symptoms proceeding to loss of consciousness, collapse, convulsions, coma, and finally death.

How much is dangerous? High concentrations of carbon monoxide kill in less than five minutes. At low concentrations it will require a longer period of time to affect the body. Exceeding the EPA concentration of 9 ppm for more than 8 hours will have adverse health affects. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety limit for healthy workers is 50 ppm.

Carbon monoxide detectors, which are designed to protect against high concentration of carbon monoxide are required to sound an alarm when concentrations are greater than 100 ppm. Continued exposure to carbon monoxide can cause permanent brain, nerve, or heart damage. Some people require years to recover while others might never fully recover. The time of exposure, the concentration of CO, the activity level of the person breathing the CO, and the person's age, sex, and general health all affect the danger level. Exposure to Co at a concentration of 400 ppm will cause headaches in 1 to 2 hours; in 3 to 5 hours the same concentration can lead to unconsciousness and death. Physical exertion, with an accompanying increase in respiration rate, shortens the time to critical levels by 2 or 3 fold. Respiratory capacity decreases and the risk of heart attack increases at levels well below 50 ppm.

CO poisoning should be suspected when:

  • Entire family is sick at the same time. (Small children & the elderly will be affected sooner).
  • Flu-like symptoms decrease while away from the house.
  • Illness is present when gas appliances are in use.
  • Excess moisture on the interior of windows.

Urgent treatment- CO poisoning

Move immediately into fresh air; administer oxygen if available. go to hospital for treatment. In severe cases, patients are treated in a hyperbaric chamber which forces carbon monoxide from the body.

The half-life of carboxyhemoglobin in fresh air is approximately 4 hours - complete flushing takes 12 to 24 hours. Oxygen and hyperbaric chambers, can reduce CO damage, speed recovery, and reduce medical problems.

Loss of consciousness suggests high levels of carbon monoxide poisoning, and patients tend to have symptoms for several weeks. They will suffer from headache, fatigue, loss of memory, difficulty in thinking clearly, irrational behavior, and irritability. Recover can be slow and frustrating. Some individuals suffer permanent brain and organ damage. Victims may be highly sensitive to CO for the rest of their lives.

A breath test can determine carbon monoxide levels. Medical laboratories can measure carboxyhemoglobin levels in the blood. Carboxyhemoglogin levels in the blood drop after the victim is removed from the carbon monoxide source Because the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning may last for months, normal carboxyhemoglobin levels in the blood 24 or more hours after exposure are not relevant.

Protection from the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning

Purchase a carbon monoxide detector(s).

Check heating appliances by a qualified heating contractor.

Replace open heating units - space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces with direct-vent, sealed combustion units