Carbon Monoxide (CO): What You Can’t See Can Harm You

Many homes and commercial buildings are heated using natural or propane gas as a fuel source. When natural or propane gas is burned with air, the by-products of combustion are water and carbon dioxide (CO2). The combustion process can be altered by equipment malfunctions or installation deficiencies and if this occurs, carbon monoxide (CO) can be produced in levels that may be harmful to the occupants of the residence or commercial building.

CED engineers have investigated the design, installation, and operation of boilers, generators, furnaces, and engines of all types. Key factors in these investigations are proper venting of exhaust gases and the possible effects of confined space and/or migration of gases. One case involved allegations of migration of CO gas from a machinery utility room, through walls/doorways, and into an adjacent hotel room.

Typically, a mechanical engineer is the lead investigator on these types of matters.An industrial hygienist may assist.CO levels are discussed by various organizations such as the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The symptoms of exposure to harmful levels of CO include headaches, nausea, mental impairment and confusion and may lead to damage to the central nervous system and possibly death. When investigating a CO exposure, it is crucial to understand the following:

* Identify the make & model of installed equipment
* Verify the fuel source
* Determine if gas regulator is properly configured for fuel source
* Determine the overall material condition of system
* Determine if installation was performed in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendation
* Obtain documentation of maintenance & service records for equipment

CED engineers have investigated the mechanical causes of exposure to CO for over 20 years. Heating system installation irregularities and lack of proper maintenance are potentially the common causes of CO exposure. Gas flow visualization techniques using smoke generators can be used to demonstrate the path that harmful gases can take within a home or commercial building. To find out more about how a CED engineer can investigate a CO matter or measure the level of CO, contact one of our regional offices to speak with a case manager.