The job of a forensic engineer in a carbon monoxide poisoning case is to find the cause of the carbon monoxide since appliances do not normally produce toxic concentrations of the lethal gas. At Bison Engineering, we have examined all types of appliances including boilers, water heaters, furnaces, high-efficiency appliances as well as their associated flues, chimneys, and Type B or stainless steel vents. A carbon monoxide poisoning investigation is much more complex than simply claiming that ‘the venting was bad’ or ‘the water heater malfunctioned.’ Figure 1 shows carbon monoxide levels can quickly become fatal, so it is extremely important to take carbon monoxide production seriously.
Figure 1 Carbon Monoxide Levels
Fortunately for carbon monoxide investigators, the equipment available for analyzing carbon monoxide air concentration has become more sophisticated, more precise, and (most importantly) REMOTE! Older techniques such as Draeger tubes required the investigator to be in the room with the carbon monoxide and wait several minutes for the test to provide sufficient results. Equipment used today is controlled from another, well-ventilated area. Bison Engineering, Inc. developed a sophisticated data acquisition system designed to determine the source of the carbon monoxide, the concentration and distribution pattern of the gas. Bison uses a combustion analyzer that can read up to 80,000 ppm to tell how much carbon monoxide the appliance in question is producing, and using multiple sensors to show how the carbon monoxide permeates the surrounding space. 80,000 ppm may seem like overkill; however, a water heater recently tested maxed out the combustion analyzer because of a small piece of tape in the air supply line. Though the water heater was built to all of the safety standards in place today, it still produced an astounding amount of carbon monoxide.
Figure 2 Carbon Monoxide Investigation
This graph shows data from a carbon monoxide investigation that Bison Engineering, Inc. performed. In addition to analyzing an appliance for carbon monoxide production, we determine if the installation met with applicable codes, standards and manufacturers recommendations.
Figure 3 Pinpointing the CO Source
With specialized equipment, Bison is able to pinpoint the carbon monoxide source, measure the concentrations throughout the area of interest, then create diagrams and videos showing how the carbon monoxide fills the space in an easy-to-understand way.
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