TV / UL Stories
Deadly Silence: CO Detectors Fail To Warn Of Gas
Nov 14, 2005 9:50 pm US/Central
Ed Curran Reporting
(CBS) NAPERVILLE More than 10 years ago a Chicago ordinance required homes to have a carbon monoxide detector to warn you if the deadly gas is present.
But even if you change your battery every year and press the test button regularly, you may not be protected.
Your detector may not be working properly or not at all. CBS 2’s Ed Curran reports on what could be a deadly silence.
“It was kind of scary, you pass out in the bathroom and wake up on the couch and you have no idea,” said Vigunya Voratanitkitkul.
In March, Voratanitkitkul’s boyfriend, Logan, found her lifeless body on the bathroom floor.
The Chicago Fire Department found high levels of carbon monoxide in their home — 206 parts per million. She did not have a CO detector.
“They said we were lucky to be alive,” Voratanitkitkul said.
Naperville Assistant Fire Chief Rich Mikel has pulled many people out of homes filled with carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. You cannot see, taste or smell it. At high enough levels, you could be dead within an hour.
Your detector is your last and perhaps only defense in an emergency. So how do you know if it’s working?
“I wouldn’t trust a CO detector more than 2 years old. I’d toss it and get a new one. Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee the new one’s going to work,” said gas detection expert Paul Clifford.
Clifford has extensively studied home carbon monoxide detectors. One of his studies show that commercial brands behave inconsistently, with four out of five failing at low humidity levels, similar to Chicago winters.
We recruited 13 Chicago area families for a test. With the help of the Naperville Fire Department, we burned carbon monoxide rich charcoal to see if their detectors, plus one we purchased new, worked.
When the fire department measured carbon monoxide levels topping 100 ppm, the digital read outs of the CO detectors read 63, 48, 44, 41, 135, 19, and 0.
The digital readings are all over the map and they can be. Right now they don’t have to be accurate. In 2007, Underwriters Labs will require them to have a margin of error of plus or minus 30 percent.
“Many sensors being used are inaccurate,” Clifford said. “It’s only going to go off once, you may already have a deadly level of CO poisoning, and that’s not good enough.”
Back to our test — the poisonous gas continues to mount and one detector still has not gone off.
Our meters show us 475 ppm in this room. Every detector’s gone off except one. It shows less than 60 ppm.
That malfunctioning CO detector belongs to Bill Michiels. For seven years, his family used it in their Oak Park home.
“There’s nothing on this to indicate there’s an error to me,” Michiels said.
It turns out Michiel’s detector had been recalled six years ago. His is among more than one million recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission over the last 10 years.
When you press the test button on most CO detectors, you’re testing the electrical circuits, not the gas sensor. A warning or signal to tell you the sensor’s no longer working is not required by Underwriters Lab.
The CPSC wants that changed. In one report it says “UL should include an ‘end of life’ signal.”
Underwriters Lab say they’re working on it.
“That’s a possible recommendation for the standards development committee. Any reasonable recommendation is accepted and will be evaluated thoroughly,” said John Drengenberg with Underwriters Laboratories.
Underwriters Laboratories says standards for detector performance in low humidity levels will be strengthened in 2007.
Most of the detectors we tested were older and technology has advanced a lot.
Underwriters and all the companies we spoke with, including First Alert, Kidde and American Sensors, all recommend replacing carbon monoxide detectors every five years.
Both Kidde and American Sensors are manufacturing newer models that have an “end of life” signal.
The bottom line here is detectors do save lives — just replace them more often.
(© MMV, CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Hank Investigates: Detecting danger
Air Date: 02/13/2006
Reported by: Hank Phillippi Ryan
Producer: Mary Schwager
Tonight, a warning that could save lives. Carbon monoxide detectors are supposed to protect you and your family from the deadly gas. Now, a new Massachusetts law requires every home to have an alarm. But how well do they work? In a story you’ll see on just one station Investigative Reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan put CO detectors to the test.
In about 40 minutes one room in this vacant house will be so dangerous it would kill anyone inside.
With the help of the New Hampshire fire marshal and these firefighters, we are filling the place with carbon monoxide.
Our question: how long will it take for these carbon monoxide alarms some years old, others brand new–to warn us of the invisible deadly gas?
We pushed each test button to confirm the units weren’t broken or malfunctioning.
“Okay, so these work.”
Then we moved behind a glass wall as firefighters put on respirators and started up a charcoal grill, a potent source of carbon monoxide.
This is the sound alarms should make when the levels get too high.
The 80 decibel shriek means you’ve got to get out of the house.
The independent agency Underwriters Labs tests and sets the safety standards for alarms. They are designed to go off before anyone gets sick.
John Drengenberg, Underwriters Laboratories
“You’re given adequate time to vacate and investigate what the problem is.”
So minute by minute, we kept track of the rising carbon monoxide levels.
This alarm, made in 1995, goes off way too soon. It’s not working properly.
Now, approaching 30 minutes firefighters monitors warn the levels are rising.
Suddenly, six alarms new and old start beeping.
For our test this nationally known expert calculated whether the alarms met the safety standards. He says 6 worked perfectly.
Paul Clifford, Carbon Monoxide Expert
“They alarmed in plenty of time to safe a person. That’s great.”
Back in the test room the firefighters alarms began screaming. Only their oxygen tanks kept them safe in a room rapidly filling with poisonous gas.
But three of our test alarms: two new and one 8 years old were quiet. According to UL standards, they failed.
The gas in the room soon climbed so high the firefighters equipment could no longer measure it. While other alarms blared 2 still did not work. And the testers had to come out.
“Were you surprised?”
“Yes, I thought they would all go off”
At that point–fire officials told us–we had to get out, too.
“It’s time to go.”
Soon being anywhere in the house would be dangerous.
“So the level in the room was lethal and yet these were not going off.”
J. William Degnan, NH Fire Marshal
“Absolutely it would have put those people at risk that have those in their home.”
Every alarm we tested carried the UL seal of approval. Did the duds have an electrical problem? Mechanical? Or something wrong with the CO sensor?
“How could that happen? Why would what happen?”
John Drengenberg, Underwriters Laboratories
“We are very interested in doing an investigation to see if there is a problem with these alarms.”
There’s no question these devices save lives:
Last month an alarm here in Brookline cleared this condo complex.
And in Lowell an alarm warned more than a hundred residents of the dangerous gas.
But since these alarms are basically mechanical it’s important to know how they work and they can fail.
Paul Clifford/Carbon Monoxide Expert
“We’ve in our testing found that a significant portion of carbon monoxide detectors don’t work as advertised.”
In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled a million of them and has dozens of complaints of failures.
As a result, experts there advise:
* Make sure you know where to put them
* You may want to have more than one
* Check the batteries
* Replace any alarms that are more than five years old.
Mark Ross, Consumer Product Safety Commission
“They are not perfect. We want them to be better they still work very well. They are still important to have but we are always trying to improve them.”
Making sure the message is clear CO detectors unquestionably save lives that’s why the law says every home must have one. But our investigation proves you cant just put one up then forget about it.
On Your Side: Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Wednesday December 01, 2004 5:50pm Reporter: Ross McLaughlin
EVERYONE SHOULD HAVE A CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR, MAYBE 2 OR 3, BUT EVEN IF YOU HAVE ONE, THE SILENT KILLER, CARBON MONOXIDE COULD BE LURKING IN YOUR HOUSE AND THE DETECTOR MAY NOT GO OFF.
CHECK OUT WHAT OUR 7 ON YOUR SIDE’S ROSS MCLAUGHLIN UNCOVERED.
Ross McLaughlin on-set:
FOLKS YOU CAN BUY CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS JUST ABOUT ANYWHERE BUT WE WANTED TO KNOW HOW WELL THEY WORK. SO WE PUT THEM TO TEST BUT TO DO THAT WE HAD TO BE ENGULFED BY THE DEADLY GAS. SO WE INVOLVED EMERGENCY CREWS, FIREFIGHTERS AND EVEN A DOCTOR AND ALL WERE SURPRISED BY THE ALARMING RESULTS.
FOLKS THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. THAT NEEDS SERIOUS PROTECTION.
CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS. WE’RE ABOUT TO ENTER A DEADLY SITUATION.
Ross: “What we’re going to do is start the generator up.”
IN ANOTHER ROOM THE EXHAUST FROM A GAS GENERATOR ACCUMULATES INSIDE THE HOUSE.
TRAPPING CARBON MONOXIDE IN THE AIR.
Tom Miller: “Right now all of our levels are zero.”
AND AS THE DANGEROUS GAS FILLS THE ROOM WE MONITOR THE LEVELS.
Tom Miller: “As soon as we see these numbers start to change then we’ll start the stop watch.”
A STOP WATCH IN HAND. SEVERAL CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS MOUNTED ON THE WALL. ONE PLUGGED INTO THE OUTLET…
SAFELY OUTSIDE THE EXPERTS WATCH.
Tom Miller: “Because it has the potential to have very quickly very devastating effects.”
PEDIATRICAN CHRISTINA JOHNS IS RIGHT. CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING DEPRIVES YOU OF OXYGEN. CAUSES FLU LIKE SYMPTONS. HEADACHES, VOMITING AND EVENTUALLY DEATH.
WITHIN MINUTES THE FIREFIGHTERS DETECTORS START TO ALARM.
AT THESE LEVELS THEY WON’T ENTER A BUILDING WITHOUT PROTECTION..
Ross: “Would this be dangerous without our masks right now?
Tom Miller: “For a prolonged period it would be.”
BUT OUR DETECTORS REMAIN SILENT.
Tom Miller: “None of the other ones are going off yet. No.”
THEY CAN’T BELIEVE IT.
Tom Miller: “Meet me on the other side.”
Tom:”We still haven’t gotten a thing.”
Ray: “Not one of them?”
IN FACT IT TAKES A FULL 20 MINUTES FOR THIS.
FINALLY OUR ALARMS GO OFF. OUR TEST IS DONE..
Ross: You were watching us from out here what do you think?
Dr. Christina Johns: “I would have significant concern.”
BECAUSE OF HIGH LEVELS.
Capt Ray Sanchez:”They continued to climb and yet the carbon monoxide detectors didn’t go off.”
BUT THEY DID PERFORM ACCORDING TO INDUSTRY STANDARDS GOING OFF AFTER PROLONGED EXPOSURE TO CARBON MONOXIDE.
Chief Mike Johns: “But it’s not what we anticipated.”
THEY ANTICIPATED A QUICKER WARNING. UNDERWRITERS LABORATORIES SETS THE STANDARDS TO PREVENT THE DEATH OF AN AVERAGE HEALTHY ADULT…BUT FOLKS WHAT IF YOU’RE ELDERLY, A CHILD, PREGNANT OR JUST “NOT AVERAGE”. THEIR OWN LITERATURE STATES YOU CAN BE MORE QUICKLY AND SEVERELY AFFECTED. WHAT ABOUT THEM? LET’S ASK UNDERWRITERS LAB IN CHICAGO.
John Drengenberg: “We found that with a more sensitive standard, you will end up with nuisance alarms. And this means people will deactivate the alarm.”
Ross: “What it’s going to take to get he manufacturers to market something that may be those folks could access and buy?”
John Drengenberg: “That’s something you’ll have to ask the manufacturers.”
GOOD IDEA. SEEMS THEY ARE ALREADY SOLD. FIRST ALERT TELLS SOME ARE AVAILABLE…FOR 2 TO 3 THOUSAND DOLLARS EACH.
AND THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Ray Sanchez:”I think we need to revisit the standards that are set and making make some suggestion on an official level.”
CARBON MONOXIDE IS MEASURED IN PARTS PER MILLION..IT’S COMPLICATED TO EXPLAIN HOW THESE WORK..THE SIMPLE ANSWER IS THEY ALARM AFTER A BUILD UP OF THE GAS OVER A PERIOD OF TIME.
OUR EXPERTS WANT THEM GO OFF SOONER TO HELP THOSE FOLKS WHO ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO THE DEADLY GAS. BUT UNTIL THAT HAPPENS…HERE’S A GOOD COMPROMISE..GET SOMETHING LIKE THIS..IT HAS A DIGITAL READOUT ..THE ALARM MAY NOT GO OFF BUT YOU CAN SEE LEVELS OF CO ON YOUR HOME AT ALL TIMES. AND IT PLUGS IN AND HAS BATTERY BACK UP. THANKS TO THE MONTGOMERY FIRE DEPARTMENT AND ALL THOSE WHO HELPED WITH OUR TEST.
IF YOU NEED HELP..GO TO WJLA.COM AND CLICK ON “7 ON YOUR SIDE” OR CALL OUR TOLL FREE HOTLINE..866-236-3401.
Carbon Monoxide Tests Reveal Alarming Results
Marti Emerald Tests Carbon Monoxide Alarms
POSTED: 5:26 pm PST December 1, 2004
UPDATED: 5:29 pm PST December 1, 2004
SAN DIEGO — Carbon monoxide is an invisible and odorless gas. When it builds up, it can kill or cripple a victim who is unknowingly breathing it, 10News reported.
Many safety experts recommend homes be equipped with carbon monoxide alarms. 10News put some of the most popular alarms to the test and found they do make noise when they read high enough levels. But some safety experts said they would like to see the alarms go off much earlier.
In the investigation, two alarms by Kidde (the Basic and Nighthawk) and one by First Alert (a smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detector combination) sounded when the carbon monoxide level in the test room reached 306 parts per million. It took about 30 minutes of stoking the test fire — burning charcoal in a Hibachi — to reach the potent level and set off the alarms.
The response fell within standards set by Underwriters Laboratories, but the firefighters who monitored the test said that’s not good enough.
“These are not satisfactory,” said firefighter Eric Thomas. “The alarms are not loud enough and don’t sound often enough. That was a hazardous environment and there was no indicator in the first few minutes that people needed to get out. That’s the most important thing.”
However, the alarm makers disagreed.
BRK Brands, which makes First Alert, said residential carbon monoxide alarms are very different from commercial multigas sensing meters, which typically sell for $2,000 and more.
Spokeswoman Deborah Hanson said, “Commercial detectors can be set to detect and sound at a variety of exposure levels. Residential carbon monoxide alarms have one fixed setting.”
Kidde spokeswoman Laurie Bowser-Sever said, “Kidde’s residential carbon monoxide alarms are designed to alarm before someone is expected to feel the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.”
She said alarms save lives.
The UL’s chief toxicology advisor agreed.
Dr. Jerrold Leikin of Evanston Northwestern Healthcare said a survey of 4,500 carbon monoxide emergencies (between the years 1994 and 1998) showed their were no deaths when a working carbon monoxide detector was in the house. He said the evidence was so overwhelming that in Chicago there is an ordinance that requires carbon monoxide detectors in many homes.
New York is the most recent city to adopt a carbon monoxide alarm ordinance.
Leikin added that the concentration of carbon monoxide would have subjected many to about one-third the poison needed to kill during a short-term exposure.
Dr. Jake Jacoby, the head of Hypobaric Medicine at the UCSD Medical Center, said differently.
Jacoby told 10News that if exposed over the course of several hours, a quarter of the exposure — 75 ppm — could be very harmful. Firefighter Eric Thomas said his professional monitor is set far lower than residential alarms because of the potential harm of breathing carbon monoxide while working or exerting energy.
Jacoby recommended that families install carbon monoxide alarms in their homes.
Experts differ on where to place them.
Jacoby said sleeping and living areas are good spots for carbon monoxide monitors. Thomas recommended putting alarms in areas near potential carbon monoxide sources: kitchens, near furnaces, water heaters and other fuel-powered appliances (outside a 10-foot radius to prevent nuisance alarms). Place alarms in stairwells and hallways, that way alarms can respond to higher gas levels before they reach the bedroom or lounging areas of the house, where families could be caught unaware, with little or no time to respond.
Here are other recommendations:
Before turning on the furnace for the first time this year, call San Diego Gas and Electric for a furnace checkup. Make sure furnaces, water heaters and chimneys are working right.
Clean chimneys on a regular basis, so they don’t back up and poison the family.
Never use a gas oven to heat the house. It can produce deadly carbon monoxide.
Absolutely never burn a BBQ or other fuel-powered heater or appliance indoors.
Kidde recommends changing out alarms every five to seven years because of changing technology, and replacing batteries every year. Underwriters Laboratories recommends testing carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month. If your carbon monoxide alarm does go off, clear the house and call the fire department or 911 for help and instructions.
Building Evacuated After Carbon Monoxide Scare
Jan 23, 2006 8:41 pm US/Eastern
(CBS4) BROOKLINE Residents of a condo complex on Cypress Road in Brookline were forced to find another place to sleep on Monday after dangerous levels of carbon monoxide were detected in some of the building’s units.
According to reports from the scene, a carbon monoxide detector in someone’s unit went off, which sparked the evacuation. Some readings in the building were as high as 150. Any reading over nine is said to be unsafe.
The fire department let residents back into their units to grab some items, but they were ordered to leave for the night while officials make sure the levels are safe in the area and the problem that caused the detector to go off is fixed.
“They said that possibly snow, ice and water from obviously the weather today could have got into the vent system and backed it up,” said Chris Disimone, one of the building’s residents. “It’s backing up into some of the units, mostly on one side of the building. They’ve got very high readings and they said it is a problem they don’t feel can be fixed overnight.”
Two people, who live close to the area where the detector went off, were taken to the hospital to be checked out as a precaution.
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