Dangers of CO2: What You Need to Know

Dangers of CO2

What is Carbon Dioxide (CO2)?

Carbon dioxide is a naturally occurring gas found in the earths  atmosphere. It is colorless, odorless, and tasteless - indistinguishable by humans.

By volume, dry air contains approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% argon, but only 0.04% carbon dioxide and small amounts of other gases.

At 0.04% CO2 (400 parts per million) under normal conditions, you will never have to worry about Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

However, there are 3 ways carbon dioxide levels can be dangerous to individuals, given high concentrations and your exposure to the gas.

1. Common Dangers of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) 

The most common way CO2 can be dangerous, is through normal human respiration inside a sealed environment. 

Each exhaled breath contains about 3% CO2. As we breath in a sealed environment, oxygen is slowly converted into CO2. The oxygen level falls while the CO2 level rises. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, has determined the optimal breathing range to be between 19.5 and 23.5 percent oxygen. Serious side effects will occur if the oxygen levels are outside of the safe zone. At levels 17 percent or below, your mental abilities become impaired.

In a sealed environment, as oxygen levels drop from 21% to 17%, the CO2 level may rise to 4%. This level of CO2 can result in symptoms like dizziness, confusion, fatigue, vertigo, headaches, tinnitus, and even seizures or asphyxiation. 

Higher levels of CO2 can be life-threatening; and prolonged exposure to Carbon Dioxide (CO2) can even cause a change in one's metabolism and bone calcium. The concentration of the gas, as well as the duration of exposure, determines the health effects. 

Many CO2 related incidents have occurred in restaurants, breweries, indoor agriculture facilities, and stadiums to name a few. Always remember that in confined spaces or when breathing in a sealed environment, CO2 can quickly accumulate and your overall health could very well be at risk. 

To prevent additional incidents from occurring, CO2 standards and regulations have been created. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Board Inspection Code (NBIC), and the International Fire Code (IFC) have all utilized recommendations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) exposure limits to require carbon dioxide monitors to be set in place. 

Other areas to be aware of in terms of CO2 exposure include:

  • Skin Contact - Liquefied CO2 or Dry Ice, can quickly burn and irritate the skin once contact is made. For safety, gently remove any clothing that may restrict circulation, loosely cover the affected areas with a sterile cloth and immediately call a poison center or doctor.
  • Eye Contact - When coming into contact with Liquefied CO2 or Dry Ice, immediately flush eyes with lukewarm water and cover both eyes with a sterile cloth. Treatment is urgently required.

2. Natural out-gassing of CO2

The second way CO2 can be dangerous is a sudden out-gassing of CO2 from the ground. 

Out-gassing is defined particularly when in reference to air quality, or the release of a gas that was dissolved, trapped, frozen or absorbed in some material.

Under the right conditions, mines, volcanoes, or fissures in the earth’s surface can suddenly leak tremendous quantities of CO2. The heavier-than-air carbon dioxide settles into low areas and becomes a death trap for any living organisms inside it.

For example, in 1986 at Lake Nyos in Cameroon, a large emitted cloud of CO2 suffocated 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby towns and villages.

3. Leaking compressed CO2 systems

The third way CO2 can be dangerous is a leak in a compressed CO2 system. Virtually every restaurant, bar or brewery in the country stores pressurized cylinders or tanks of carbon dioxide on premise. A CO2 leak inside an enclosed space can become a potential death trap for anyone caught inside.

While death by CO2 leaks are rare, they do happen.

To ensure CO2 safety among individuals, customers, and employees worldwide, CO2Meter designed the CO2 Multi Sensor System (CM-7000) which meets all local fire codes, NFPA, IFC, NFPA Requirements, OSHA/NIOSH TWA standards and is designed to protect customers and workers near stored carbon dioxide (CO2).

Currently, state and local municipalities are continually writing new codes that require the use of CO2 safety alarms in buildings where anywhere more than 100 lbs. of compressed CO2 is stored or produced.

Place Proper Warning Signage for CO2 

If there is one thing you can take away from this article remember the signs of CO2 poisoning: disorientation, fatigue, dizziness, increased heart rate, muscle tremors, and shortness of breath. For those potential hazard spots in your establishment where you may store or produce CO2, ensure your staff is educated on the potential hazards of working around carbon dioxide.

In addition, having CO2 monitoring detection devices in place with proper warning signage will not only provide peace of mind to your staff and employees, but could be potentially life-saving should a CO2 incident every occur.

If you think your overall health, employees health or those around have been severely affected by exposure to Carbon Dioxide (CO2), contact your nearest health care professional.

For more information on CO2Meter Safety Solutions, Speak to an expert today:(877) 678 - 4259 or Sales@CO2Meter.com 

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