Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2011 21:47:57 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**>
From: "David C. Finster" <dfinster**At_Symbol_Here**WITTENBERG.EDU>
Subject: Re: Portable Gas Detectors
In-Reply-To: <4FF77342-08D3-4CE0-A733-4F9299A7B69C**At_Symbol_Here**>

Mario (and others),

My guess is that the detector to which you refer is probably a "four-gas meter" that is commonly used in the fire service.  These meters detect oxygen, combustible gases (in a generic or specific way), carbon monoxide, and "one other gas" that is most commonly hydrogen sulfide.  (Another common option for the 4th gas is ammonia.)  These represent the most common gases that emergency responders want to know about on scene.  There are several brands of these devices, and they all need periodic calibration.  So far as I know, these detectors are not commonplace on college campuses so I would not start with the assumption that you need to have one "just like everybody else".

A quick look online indicates pricing from $500-$2000.  (I'd probably spend the money elsewhere.)

I would recommend contacting your local fire department if you wish to learn more about these devices.

The question arises:  how would you best use a four-gas meter?   Chemists are pretty good at smelling things and making reasonable assessments of what a situation is "qualitatively."  There isn't any need for a quantitative measurement, probably.  We chemists probably don't want to "over-respond" by evacuating a building for some strange (or un-strange) odor, although there are certain circumstances when that would be prudent.  If you call 911 about a strange (or identified) odor in a science building, the dispatcher will almost certainly tell you to evacuate the building.  The firefighters, and perhaps even a hazmat team, will enter the building and try to locate the source and remedy the situation.  When to make that call depends upon your good judgment.  I doubt that a four-gas meter will help with this decision.  (Of course, the nose isn't much good for CO!!  But CO is more commonly a homeowner problems with faulty gas furnaces and gas water heaters, which is why the fou!
r-gas meter detects CO!)

When "chemistry is done right" we should not be smelling anything since anything "to be smelled" ought to be confined to a chemical hood.  Any unexpected odor is either an engineering failure or an operations failure and, probably, we can determine that quickly and rectify the situation.  Anyone who is working with REALLY toxic substances (gases) ought to be trained to do so, know how to detect when "something goes wrong", and how to immediately respond.  That training alone will probably eliminate the "operations failure" episode in the first place.

As an emergency responder, I love my four-gas meter.  I never thought about having or using one as a chemist.

David C. Finster
Professor of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Department of Chemistry
Wittenberg University
-----Original Message-----
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Garcia-Rios Mario
Sent: Sunday, October 30, 2011 7:47 PM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Portable Gas Detectors

Hello Everyone,

I recently became the first CHO at my institution and joined the ACS DCHAS.  The LISTSERV has already provided me with valuable information.  Our institution is small and Chemistry is a "service" area to the rest of the College (including a small Biology Program).  Last week we had a report from a staff member of a "strong and ugly odor" coming from a chemistry lab.  The staff member called Public Safety and they called me. It turns out that the lab tech had just prepared reagents containing cyclohexane.  After the incident was determined to be "minor", the Public Safety Chief told me that his office used to have a Portable Gas Detector, but that said detector was lost. Can any of you recommend such a device? Brand? Detectors?

Thanks in advance for any assistance,


Mario G. Garcia-Rios, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biology and Chemistry
Chemical Hygiene Officer
Mount Ida College
777 Dedham Street
Newton, MA 02459
(617) 928-4061

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