What do Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Milwaukee, Chicago, and the state of Alabama all have in common? They all have municipal ordinances with carbon dioxide standards. Some are written by the Fire Department and some by the Boiler Inspectors. No matter who writes it, if you live in a major city, eventually your business will be checked for violations if you use compressed or stored CO2.
Many reasons abound for the continued growth of CO2 regulations. In Phoenix, it started with an incident the Phoenix Fire Department had at a fast food restaurant. In Chicago, the code was written because of issues with storage vessels. With the real possibility of loss of life, stored CO2 can be just as dangerous as stored natural gas. Businesses will be fined and possibly shut down if they do not have the proper monitoring equipment and procedures to ensure the safety and welfare of employees and patrons.
But beyond the safety aspects, the other main driver of these codes is revenue. Current economic trends show that local governments are having a tough time meeting their financial obligations. Their tax base has yet to see revenue increase as a rebounding economy normally provides. To offset some of their costs, municipalities are turning to user fees and code enforcement fines as a means of generating revenue. For example, a quick scan of the recent Phoenix municipal ordinances shows how much pertains to the fee schedule as opposed to the actual, written code.
The kicker is that codes aren’t just being written to regulate CO2 in beverage dispensing. The Denver Fire Department has put in place a CO2 code for marijuana growers too. No matter what side of the fence you sit on when it comes to legalizing marijuana, like every small greenhouse they use CO2 to improve the yield and quality of their products. The generation of that additional CO2 has caused the Denver Fire Department to put in place codes requiring monitoring at the OSHA standard of no more than 5,000 ppm TWA (Time Weighted Average). While that level would kill most plants, the Fire Department wants to ensure that nobody is exposed to those levels in their working environment.
In addition, fire departments have begun writing codes to protect first responders. I can’t think of a more admirable reason to write a code than to ensure the safety and health of the men and women who have dedicated their lives to saving ours. First responders should know if a colorless, odorless gas is lingering in a space that they are about to walk into.
While it is easy to support tougher regulation of CO2 storage, these municipal codes should not be written in a vacuum. A bureaucrat with little knowledge and unlimited power can hurt business in ways never intended. That is why experts in gas detection like CO2Meter, the gas suppliers, and beverage wholesalers should be involved in the discussions before codes are written to guarantee that they make sense for everyone.
The other challenge we face is that unless a national standard is enacted, we will eventually wind up with a patchwork of different CO2 regulations across the country. While each one may be well-intentioned, the result will be a paperwork and training nightmare for any company that does business in more than one town.
Ultimately, the best solution would be for OSHA to formally recognize CO2 as a hazardous gas and provide federal standards we can all work with. Dangerous CO2 levels can kill no matter what town or state they are in. Unfortunately, there is very little incentive for Washington to work together to create federal standards for anything, let alone CO2 gas.
The irony is that the politics played around the twin ideas of “CO2 as a bad gas” and “big government is evil” will first cause more needless deaths or injuries in the US, and will lead to a hodge-podge of local codes that will cost local businesses even more money in the long run.