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November 25, 2015

Bubbles That Lead to Troubles

Written by: Rebecca Erickson

Over the past few years, the food and beverage industry has been moving away from using smaller, compressed CO2 gas cylinders towards larger, liquefied CO2 gas cylinders. The liquefied gas cylinders pose an enhanced danger as they contain a much higher concentration of CO2 than the standard CO2, making even the smallest leak that much more dangerous. Accidental incidents resulting in harm to humans from CO2 leaks from the cylinders during storage, filling or changing over are more common than you might think and yet they are preventable.

The most serious aspect of a CO2 leak is that CO2 displaces oxygen, and because it is heavier than air, in high concentrations it makes our breathing zone an asphyxiation zone. Normal breathable air is between 20.8% and 21% oxygen. OSHA defines any atmosphere that contains less than 19.5% oxygen as oxygen deficient. At levels below 17% our cerebral abilities become impaired. At 14% extreme fatigue sets in. Once levels drop below 10% you will rapidly lose consciousness and at levels below 6%, humans won’t survive. According to ASHRAE and OSHA standards, the maximum allowed concentration of CO2 within an 8 hour working period is 5,000 ppm (0.5%). At 30,000 ppm (3%) physiological symptoms start with nausea, increased breathing and pulse rate and feelings of intoxication. Headaches and impairment follow at 50,000 ppm (5%) with unconsciousness around 70,000 ppm (7%) and death at 100,000 ppm (10%).

Places that use soda machines typically store the CO2 cylinders in the basement or another confined back room away from the food and beverage preparation/serving area. The majority of the time, workers are at their stations cooking, preparing, serving and taking orders from patrons. It could be days before someone would need to go to the basement to get something or change over the large, liquefied CO2 cylinders. If a leak were to have occurred during that time and there was no warning, a worker entering or walking through the storage area could be in danger of passing out and, ultimately, asphyxiation/death.

To protect workers and patrons, a permanently installed CO2 gas detector in the area where the cylinders are stored is a highly recommended safety precaution. CETCI’s AST-IS CO2 product line offers several models with different options to satisfy the specific requirements of the application. All models are low maintenance and contain a non-dispersive, infrared CO2 sensor (from 0 – 2,000 ppm and 0 - 4.0% range) that offers reliable and accurate CO2 detection. Options include, with/without display, temperature sensor, integral alarm, BACnet output and relay output. The relay should be configured to trigger a strobe and/or horn located in an appropriate place in the restaurant guaranteeing that the alarm would be heard. In storage rooms that have ventilation fans, they could be set to come on at a predefined CO2 concentration, so the gas in the confined area would be vented immediately. For a more elaborate application, such as multiple gases or rooms to be monitored communication with a controller or the building automated system could also be configured.

Because CO2 displaces oxygen and human safety should be of the utmost concern, the addition of a permanently installed LPT-A-O2 gas detector with an oxygen sensor would complete the package, ensuring that if the oxygen level in the storage area was too low, the alarm would be activated and workers would be notified.

If you would like to watch a re-enactment of an incident where there was a CO2 leak at a fast food restaurant, check out this informational video put together by the Phoenix Fire Dept.


About Critical Environment Technologies Canada Inc.

Critical Environment Technologies Canada Inc. is a leading equipment manufacturer for commercial and industrial gas detection applications. We are dedicated to designing, developing and servicing hazardous gas detection systems for a wide range of applications that require monitoring of refrigerants, TVOCs, combustible and toxic gases. CETCI’s products are sold through a worldwide network of authorized distributors. Our knowledgeable Regional Sales Managers are experienced with many application scenarios, including commercial, institutional, municipal and light industrial markets worldwide. Areas of specialization include car parks, refrigeration plants, commercial swimming pools, water purification, including wastewater treatment facilities, ice arenas, wineries and breweries, schools and many more.

For suggestions on gas detection systems, indoor air quality monitors and calibration, please visit




Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. OSH Answers Fact Sheets (September 9, 2015). Web. Retrieved from

http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/chem_profiles/carbon_dioxide.html[accessed 29 September 2015]

Phoenix Fire Dept. Special Hazards Unit Incident Investigation Review. E61 CO2 Incident. (September 28 2011). Web. Video Retrieved from

https://youtu.be/eY__H-CMvw0 [accessed 29 September 2015]

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