Your CO detector could be putting you at risk.

Your CO detector could be putting you at risk.

A recent article on Active Rain caught my eye about the dangers of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide in the home. It turns out that while most of us thought we were protecting ourselves from carbon monoxide poisoning by purchasing and putting up detectors around our homes, we are actually only partially protected. That is because most CO detectors on the market today are calibrated to detect only acute levels of carbon monoxide, or doses above 30 ppm. Recent studies have suggested, however, that exposure to levels as low as 5 ppm may cause health problems over the long term.

Dr. David G. Penney maintains a website of information and has published several books about chronic carbon monoxide poisoning. He believes that for every case of low level carbon monoxide poisoning reported there could be as many as ten that are never diagnosed. Part of what makes a diagnoses difficult is the type of symptoms that manifest under low levels of exposure. Symptoms like fatigue, headache, dizziness, memory loss and sleep disturbances can easily be ascribed a number of other common illnesses.

Check out this chart of known risks associated with various levels of exposure and you’ll see, we’re not just talking about feeling rotten, we’re also talking an increased risk of heart disease and asthma. There’s even a risk of low birth weight for babies born to mothers who have been exposed.

Another key problem with identifying chronic poisoning is the fact that carbon monoxide detectors on the market today are calibrated to find concentrations of carbon monoxide greater than 30 ppm. A small leak, one that registers at 30 ppm or less, will not set off your average home detector. I did a quick search on the Home Depot website and was shocked to see that many of the detectors for sale didn’t even list the detection levels in the online description.

To make sure your home is safe from low levels of carbon monoxide, consider upgrading to Defender brand detectors that will sound an alarm if the concentration gets above 10 ppm. You can also get a hand held detector that offers accurate readings down to 1ppm to get sense of the exposure hot spots in your home.