A guide to carbon monoxide...

Carbon monoxide detector standards

Carbon monoxide is a leading cause of poisoning death and poisoning related injury worldwide.

Obviously carbon monoxide detector standards are important but do existing standards actually protect your health and family? Shockingly they only protect against acute poisoning but do not protect against chronic poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Alarm Standard
(USA & Canada) UL-2034 / CSA-6.19

This standard was implemented in the early 1990's to cover detectors supplied and used in the US, Canada, and Mexico. The standard has been amended a number of times since its inception (1997, 1998, 2001). Products officially approved to this standard must be clearly marked with the UL symbol.

American carbon monoxide detector requirements:

  • Must NOT sound an audible alarm at 70 ppm or less for 60 minutes
  • Must NOT sound an audible alarm at 30 ppm for 30 DAYS
  • MAY NOT sound an audible alarm at 70 ppm for up to 4 hours, [240 minutes]
  • ALL UL-2034 / CSA-6.19 C O alarms are “Tested” only at 70, 150 and 400 ppm
  • The Standards state that 70 ppm can be +/-5 ppm; therefore the LOWEST LEVEL that a UL-2034 / CSA-6.19 C O alarm MUST BE TESTED is 65 ppm.

The "WARNINGS LISTED" on every UL-2034, CSA-6.19 or I.A.S. detector make it VERY CLEAR that their alarms DO NOT provide "Health" Protection because they FORBID AUDIBLE WARNINGS AT 30 PPM for 30 DAYS; thereby providing NO, ZERO PROTECTION from chronic low level carbon monoxide poisoning.

European CO Detector Standard: EN50291

This standard was implemented in April 2001 and superseded the British Standard BS7860 in April 2006. Approved products must be clearly marked with the EN50291 number and may also display the Kitemark symbol.

European carbon monoxide detector requirements:

  • at 30 ppm CO, the alarm must not activate for at least 120 minutes

  • at 50 ppm CO, the alarm must not activate before 60 minutes but must activate before 90 minutes

  • at 100 ppm CO, the alarm must not activate before 10 minutes but must activate before 40 minutes

  • at 300 ppm CO, the alarm must activate within 3 minutes

The problem with carbon monoxide detector standards

Carbon monoxide detector standards are designed to trigger alarms when carbon monoxide levels reach a certain level (for a certain amount of time).

They are designed to prevent acute poisoning (one time accidental poisoning). They are not designed to prevent chronic poisoning (multiple low level poisonings).

The standards totally ignore the risk and danger of [ongoing] exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide - which is a genuine threat and danger to a far greater number of people.

For example: The United States (Underwriters Laboratories or UL) and Canada (CSA) have coordinated carbon monoxide standards and product testing. 2010 standards prohibit showing CO levels of less than 30 ppm on digital displays. New standards require the alarm to activate at higher (not lower) levels of carbon monoxide than the old standard.

The reason for the changes is to reduce calls to fire departments, utilities and emergency response teams when the carbon monoxide levels are not life threatening (but ignores the fact that low level CO exposure is health threatening).

This means that new alarms will not sound at CO concentrations up to 70 ppm. It is ironic and "alarming" as this is significantly in excess of Health Canada guidelines as well as Occupation Safety and Health Guidelines.

Detectors with a digital display and a "history" option can provide the true CO concentrations in a house. A low-level display is useful for people with existing respiratory problems, heart conditions, or anyone wanting to be proactive (rather than waiting for a situation to become serious). Low-level CO detection products are commercially available but are not certified to CSA or UL standards as these standards prohibit low-level displays.

Although not widely available, low level carbon monoxide detectors save lives and also alert people to low levels of CO - which can trigger symptoms and injuries.

Buy a low level carbon monoxide detector here...

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Questions? Want to share your opinion? Do it here...
Question about CO alarm standard change
Denis Martinez from New York
Not that I don\'t take your word for it, but an you provide a specific source indicating that the CO alarm activation standard was increased so as not to result in more 911 and fire department calls? I\'m working on developing CO legislation in the State of New York and this fact is particularly interesting.

Why the International Assoc of Fire Chiefs didn't want low level alarms
Brokenmedic from MN
Simply put, they cost fire departments too much money through 911 response and the need to carry sensitive detection equipment with them. I have personally seen fire 1st responders carry in home CO detectors attached to the medical bag. Post 911 that has changed some thru grants and lower cost multiple gas detectors.

In short, years ago it was decided there would be too many 911 calls for CO alarms if \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"low level\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" detectors are used in the home. That is why you almost never see them in sold in retail stores.

The reality is, they put a price on the health & safety of your children who are the most at risk from prolonged low level poisoning, next come the elderly or those with chronic illness.

It is not cost effective for emergency services to respond with a fire truck, ambulance, gas company and in some areas the police also, for cooking related CO alarms.

So if you call 911 because your CO detector is alarming and your lucky to live in an area that has a progressive E911/ Emergency Medical Dispatch center, they will first ask \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"is anyone is sick or ill\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\".

Since CO poisoning is frequently mistaken for cold or flu like symptoms. That will determine who and how fast they will respond.

The Golden Rule: If your CO detector is alarming and anyone seems sick, has a headache or dizziness, nausea or confusion GET OUTSIDE to fresh air, then call 911.

These common complaints can be signs of acute CO poisoning and might warrant a fast trip to the local hyperbaric chamber for high concentration oxygen, just like scuba divers that surface too fast with \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"the bends\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\".

Make sure your CO detector is plugged in, has a fresh battery, it is not expired, (date should be on the back) get your glasses and you may need a magnifying glass to read the date & serial number.

If there is no exp date look for the \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\"date of manufacture\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\" then call the manufacturer, Nighthawk has a toll free number. Usually 2 years old it needs to be replaced. I have seen CO detectors alarm before smoke alarms, but have both and follow local fire codes.


Best CO Protection
lonewolf from montana
Honeywell has two brands that make gas monitors (incl.CO)
1. BioSystems and 2) BW Technologies

Each have several model-lines with sensitivities of 1 (ONE) ppmv and continuous (always on) read outs. May be ordered to alarm at any level as specified by thecustomer. 2 year lifetime with countdown timers (life remaining).

Also Draeger Safety makesm the
Drager Pac® 3500 Single Gas Detector - Carbon Monoxide (CO) - 0-500ppm (1 ppmv resolution)

Dee Dee
My GOD! How many people buy a detector and think it will protect them when in fact it only partially protects them - from acute dosages of poisoning but not from multiple low level of poisoning - which are even more damaging. WTF!

It is astonishing that the standards don't cover low level CO exposure. What makes it so much worse is that almost everyone that has a working detector thinks they are protected - when in fact they are only partially protected.

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