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Detect Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO), is often called the “Silent Killer” because of its ability to take lives quickly and quietly when its victims never even knew they were at risk. It is indetectable to humans, being both tasteless and odorless, and in high enough concentrations it can kill within minutes. But CO is not so silent if you read about its victims in the news. It already claims hundreds of lives each year, and survivors of CO poisoning can be left with psychological and neurological symptoms. Sadly, this toxic gas takes lives that could be saved through education, awareness, and simple protection. Read this article to make yourself aware of the risks that CO poses, and how to stay CO safe!

What is CO And Who’s At Risk?

CO is a poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of carbon based fuels. When inhaled it deprives the blood stream of oxygen, suffocating its victim. No one is immune to the effects of CO, though children 14 and under are more likely to sustain poisoning than adults at lower levels. CO can cause immediate health problems, and even death, in high concentrations, and some suspect it can also cause long-term health problems in low concentrations if a person experiences regular exposure (such as at home, or in the workplace). Significant exposure to CO can also reduce life expectancy, as reported in a recent article of the Journal of the American Medicine Association.

Any gas or propane based engine will produce CO, meaning that boaters, truckers, and small aircraft pilots are at risk from CO fumes as soon as they start their vehicle. Homeowners suffer the most from CO poisoning, and are in danger from sources like gas-powered furnaces and water heaters, clogged fireplaces and chimneys, cars running in an attached garage, and burning of fuels indoors (such as a gas or charcoal grill). Travelers staying in hotels are in danger of CO poisoning as well, which can be leaked into a hotel room from nearby faulty heaters and boilers. To see examples of recent CO poisonings in all of these areas, and others, take a look at our news headlines page.

How Do I Know If I Am Being Exposed to CO?

The beginning symptoms of CO poisoning are sometimes compared to the symptoms of food poisoning. Depending on the level of CO, and length of exposure, you may experience any one or more of the following symptoms:

Most people have experienced some of these symptoms at one time or another, which doesn’t necessarily mean that CO poisoning caused them. However, regular occurence of any of these symptoms might be an indication of CO poisoning. For example, do you suffer from any of these symptoms on a regular basis, or always in the same place? For example, do you regularly get headaches after entering your home, or when operating your vehicle. Do your symptoms go away when you leave the house or your vehicle? Have several members in your house been complaining of the same symptoms? If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then you might be suffering from the effects of CO exposure. But symptoms and problems don’t just appear when a person is exposed to high levels of CO. Even low-level CO concentrations can cause health problems if a person is exposed to them for long periods of time on a regular basis. This excerpt from an article published by the EPA explains why:

The health threat from lower levels of CO is most serious for those who suffer from heart disease, like angina, clogged arteries, or congestive heart failure. For a person with heart disease, a single exposure to CO at low levels may cause chest pain and reduce that person’s ability to exercise; repeated exposures may contribute to other cardiovascular effects.

Ultimately, the best way to determine if you are being exposed to CO in your environment, particulary in low-levels, is with a CO detector. Large, wall-socket CO detectors sold in hardware and drug stores may protect you from a high-level leak of CO in your home. Generally though, these detectors do not alarm at low-levels of CO, and also offer no way to measure the actual concentration. Also, to avoid false alarms, such detectors require several continuous minutes of exposure at high-levels before alarming. But by this time, you may already be suffering from the effects of CO poisoning – disoriented, sick, and wondering what is going on. Such home detectors also give you no way to test that they are still working. Don’t be fooled by the “Push to Test” buttons on these detectors. This button tests the audible alarm, but typically doesn’t check if the actual CO sensing element is still functioning. A better way to stay safe, both at home and when away, is with a portable CO monitor that has a digital readout. This allows you to monitor levels anywhere in your environment, no matter where you are. It also gives you the ability to routinely test the detector with a small source of CO (like a blown-out paper match, or CO bump kit). Learn more about the Pocket CO portable detector/dosimeter, a way to keep you and your family CO safe!

How Much CO is Too Much?

The level of CO concentration is measured using a system called Parts Per Million (PPM). For example, 100 PPM CO means that for every 999,900 molecules of air, there are 100 molecules of CO. CO effects people differently depending on the concentration. In addition to measuring the current level of CO concentration, another measurement used is the Time-Weighted Average (TWA). This measures your average exposure to CO over time, and is also measured in PPM. For example, if you were exposed to a large dose of CO in the begining of the day, but none afterwards, your TWA for the day would be low, since for most of the day you had no exposure. If, however, you are continually exposed to 20 PPM CO throughout the day, your TWA for the day will be 20 PPM.

The table below summarizes some health effects due to prolonged exposure to various concentrations of CO, as well as some government recommended limits, and Pocket CO alarm levels. It has been compiled from various sources, including the NFPA:

Level of CO Health Effects, and Other Information
0 PPM Normal, fresh air.
9 PPM Maximum recommended indoor CO level (ASHRAE).
10-24 PPM Possible health effects with long-term exposure.
25 PPM Max TWA Exposure for 8 hour work-day (ACGIH).
Pocket CO TWA warning sounds each hour.
50 PPM Maximum permissible exposure in workplace (OSHA).
First Pocket CO ALARM starts (optional, every 20 seconds).
100 PPM Slight headache after 1-2 hours.
125 PPM Second Pocket CO ALARM starts (every 10 seconds).
200 PPM Dizziness, naseau, fagitue, headache after 2-3 hours of exposure.
400 PPM Headache and nausea after 1-2 hours of exposure.
Life threatening in 3 hours.
Third Pocket CO ALARM starts (every 5 seconds).
800 PPM Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 45 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after 1 hour of exposure.
Death within 2-3 hours.
1000 PPM Loss of consciousness after 1 hour of exposure.
1600 PPM Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 20 minutes of exposure.
Death within 1-2 hours.
3200 PPM Headache, nausea, and dizziness after 5-10 minutes; collapse and unconsciousness after 30 minutes of exposure.
Death within 1 hour.
6400 PPM Death within 30 minutes.
12,800 PPM Immediate physiological effects, unconsciousness.
Death within 1-3 minutes of exposure.

There are many CO exposure limits set by government organizations. For a detailed listing, click here. The American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) lists a maximum allowable short term limit of 9 PPM. And the EPA has set two national health protection standards for CO: a one-hour TWA of 35 PPM, and an eight-hour TWA of 9 PPM. These standards make it clear that any carbon monoxide reading over 9 PPM should be investigated and acted upon.

What Should I Do if CO is Detected?

With the Pocket CO you will be able to detect CO before being in danger of long term health effects. If you find out that a significant amount of CO is present, there are things you need to do for you and your loved one’s safety:

Motorboats can release CO at very high concentrations. The CO can accumulate in and around the boat when idling, and can even be dragged behind the boat in what’s known as the “station wagon effect”. Learn more about CO safe boating.

CO on houseboats can be released not only by the motor, but also by the onboard generator. Many deaths have occured on houseboats due to CO accumulating in cabins, and in areas around (and under) the boat where children often swim. Learn more about CO safe boating.

Small aircraft pilots are susceptible to CO leaking into the cabin from the engine. Such leaks could be at low concentrations, but over long periods of exposure they could cause heath problems.

Because of their long drives and therefore long exposure periods, truckers are especially vulnerable to low-level CO leaks in the cab. Such leaks can put their lives at risk, as well as the lives of others on the road.

Many people have been sickened, and some have even died, due to CO poisoning at motels and hotels. CO can leak into a traveler’s room from nearby leaky furnaces and hot water heaters. Despite this risk, most hotels do not have CO detectors installed.

The largest group that suffers from CO poisonings are homeowners. CO can accumulate in a home from faulty gas-powered furnaces and water heaters, clogged fireplaces and chimneys, wood burning stoves, running cars in attached garages, and any burning of fuels indoors (such as a grill). Also, some homes or businesses located next to multi-lane, busy streets or highways, can have low-levels of CO present much of the time.

The Pocket CO Detector/Dosimeter, can protect your and your family from dangerous levels of CO anywhere. Its loud alarm and bright red light will warn you of dangerously high levels. It is simple to use, weighs less than an ounce, and fits on a key chain. Also, Pocket CO’s digital readout allows you to monitor even low levels of CO.

What our customers say

We are a volunteer first aid squad and like to keep the Pocket CO clipped to our blood pressure case. This way, every time that we enter a home or business to treat a patient, we run a quick test to assure that we are safe.

Anthony J. Pellegrino, Captain, Shrewsbury First Aid Squad, NewJersey

Last Wednesday I took off from Langley BC to Powell River and back to Langley in a Piper Cherokee for a dual cross country ride; this is a bit over two hours flight, and most of the way is along the Pacific coast. After I started the engine we heard some sort of beep in the cabin, so we looked at the instruments, checked cell phones, our headsets, everything seemed OK, plus none of us heard that kind of beep in a Cherokee before. It took us about a half hour of flight to figure out that the Pocket CO was beeping (was the first time using it, completely forgot I had it until my flight instructor asked me to check that “thing” hanging around my neck). When I read it, it showed 63ppm; so we closed the heaters, and opened all vents, until the reading dropped to 3ppm, that is a more “normal” figure. By now we were well above Vancouver, but because of the low reading we decided to keep going and not go back to Langley. Apparently the CO peaked to 90ppm (if I read the 12hrs log correctly), that was probably during our climb when we used full power. My flight instructor wanted to ground the airplane, but the end result was the school installed a new chemical indicator! The mechanics got a bit touchy, because the airplane just got back from a 100hrs check, they said there was no way we had any CO in the cabin, but I’ve seen the numbers, and I don’t really care what they say: I fly the airplane. I knew this little device could save my skin one day, I didn’t expect it so soon! I had a few more flights since then, with different airplanes, all show a very low CO number.

Ion, Canada, May 2010

Just wanted to let you know that I am one of your success stories. I purchased a Pocket CO monitor for use in my research. It came in handy one day when a new CO alarm in my home started to go off. Using the Pocket CO, I was able to determine that the CO alarm wasn’t faulty–we had CO in the house! We traced the source to a vent pipe that was never married to our hot water heater. I’m a big fan of your product which is inexpensive, portable, and very easy to use. It’s a great addition to home CO alarms, and I always take mine with me when I travel. Thanks!!

Eric L., Emergency Physician/Medical Toxicologist, Colorado, January 2010

I just bought the Pocket CO detector a few weeks ago for my airplane. While flying I noticed it get up to over 100 ppm. So, today I closely inspected the exhaust manifolds and found a hidden hole in the exhaust stack. I never would have known about it if I hadn’t bought Pocket CO! Thanks!

Doug M., Southern California, December 2009