Why take a chance with Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, tasteless and toxic gas. It can inhibit your blood's ability to transport oxygen through the body. It can poison you quickly when in high concentrations, or slowly in low doses. Exposure to CO can cause flu-like symptoms such as:
- burning eyes,
- drowsiness, and
- loss of consciousness.
Carbon monoxide is a common by-product of the combustion process. Improperly installed, maintained or vented appliances can produce CO. Pay special attention to:
- gas or oil furnaces and hot water heaters,
- gas appliances,
- charcoal grills, and
- space and kerosene heaters.
Blocked chimneys and obstructed vents can result in the accumulation of CO.
Detectors can sense unsafe levels of CO and will sound an alarm.
How does a CO detector work?
Most commercially available detectors for home installation use biometric, metal-oxide semi-conductor (MOS) or electrochemical technologies.
Biometric detectors are also called biomimetic, colourimetric or gel-cell detectors. A photoelectric eye in these detectors senses colour changes in a chemically treated disk of gel. This design mimics the body's response to CO absorption. These detectors can be battery powered.
Detectors that use metal-oxide semi-conductors require more energy and need to be plugged-in or hard-wired. They use a heated metal-oxide semi-conductor to detect CO.
Electrochemical technology usually involves an acid electrolyte solution and platinum electrodes. The presence of CO causes a chemical reaction that instigates a current flow through the circuit. These units' low energy consumption allows them to be battery-powered.
What standards apply to CO detectors?
The two main industry standards used in Canada are CAN/CGA-6.19, "Residential Carbon Monoxide Detectors," and UL2034, "Single and Multiple Station Carbon Monoxide Detectors." Units should bear the approval of one of these standards. Electric-powered units should also bear the CSA approval.
In general, current standards require detectors to alarm for 70 ppm within 240 minutes, 150 ppm within 50 minutes and 400 ppm within 15 minutes.
Earlier CO-detector models were designed with different standards. Recent changes to detectors primarily address false alarms common with the older models. Revisions to these standards do not make current carbon-monoxide detectors obsolete.
Do CO detectors require maintenance?
CO detectors should be maintained in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. Keep your air vents clean by vacuuming them occasionally. Test the detectors regularly. In general, units should be tested at least once a month.
Are they required?
Municipal by-law requires every local residence with a fuel burning appliance, including gas or oil furnaces and hot water heaters, gas appliances, fireplaces, woodstoves, charcoal grills, space and kerosene heaters, and/or an attached garage to install at least one working carbon monoxide alarm.
It is the responsibility of registered owners of all single and multiple dwelling units to comply with this by-law. Landlords are responsible for installing carbon monoxide alarms in rental units.
Alarms must be placed so they are audible in every bedroom when doors are closed. Residents will have a grace period in which to purchase and install a carbon monoxide alarm. Effective August 23, 2011, the carbon monoxide alarm by-law will be strictly enforced. Click here to download the by-law. (pdf 185 kb)
A home heated by electricity with no other possible sources of carbon monoxide does not need a detector.
What do I do if my detector sounds an alarm?
Call the Greater Sudbury Fire Services. If anyone is suffering from CO-poisoning symptoms, leave the home immediately. The firefighters will investigate the alarm and will take CO measurements. If they suspect the problem is related to gas-fired appliances such as a furnace or hot-water heater, they may request a qualified repair service or the gas company be contacted immediately. Be prepared to answer some questions; your information may help determine the cause of the alarm.
Often, whatever may have caused the alarm may not be present when the firefighters arrive. For example, a motor vehicle may have been running in the garage and the carbon monoxide from the exhaust may have entered the home and triggered the alarm.
Why is it dangerous?
Carbon monoxide competes with oxygen in the human body. Because it has an affinity to blood 210 times stronger than does oxygen, it is a very powerful poison.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Early symptoms include headache, nausea, shortness of breath and sometimes vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, clumsiness, fainting, inappropriate mood swings, irritability, and increased heart rate (pulse).
Symptoms of severe poisoning include blue-tinged skin and mucous membranes (cyanosis), full or partial blindness, chest pain, coma, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure. Only rarely do you see a cherry-red skin colour.
The progression of symptoms with increasing concentration of gas and length of exposure are as follows:
- problems with coordination
- headache and a feeling of tightness in the temples
- throbbing headache with confusion and blurred vision
- rapid breathing and pulse, fainting and loss of consciousness
- deep coma, convulsions, shock, and respiratory and heart failure
What to do if you suspect poisoning?
If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, the person should be immediately removed to fresh air and medical attention should be sought without delay. Treatment involves the administration of high concentrations of oxygen.
Delayed treatment can result in permanent damage to the brain and other vital organs or death.