Generations ago miners used to head off into a mine swinging a canary in a birdcage – if the canary lived, it was a sign there were no toxic gases in the mine. If the canary died, it was time to leave pretty smartish.
NASA scientists have finally put an end to the mining career of canaries everywhere by developing an iPhone app which detects noxious gases, including, potentially, carbon monoxide.
Scientists have been embracing app technology and adapting iPhone screens to be able to offer a whole range of clinical tests, such as blood tests and other health screenings.
US researchers at Ames Research Center have developed a small chip which uses 16 nanosensors to detect noxious gases when plugged into the bottom of an iPhone.
So far the chemicals that the device can detect include ammonia, chlorine and methane – but the potential to detect poisonous gases like carbon monoxide could have applications for holidaymakers and tenants renting properties with boilers, cookers and heaters which may not have been maintained and are potentially life threatening.
The device prototype looks like a circuit board but could easily be developed into a plug-in gadget with a whole host of applications for commercial and personal use.
As yet, no developer seems to have managed to devise a carbon monoxide app for use in rental property or holiday homes, although gadgets from cards impregnated with CO-detecting chemicals to battery-operated CO alarms and digital mains-powered alarms have flooded the market.
There have recently been, however, incidents involving deaths from CO poisoning among families camping and not realising that using barbecue equipment near a tent could result in CO poisoning for anyone sleeping in that tent.
It is also important to realise that social habits like smoking can also produce CO fumes, which when combine with another CO source such as a BBQ or water heater might escalate carbon monoxide levels to dangerous proportions in an enclosed space.
A simple app to test the air would inevitably save lives in situation where people might not suspect there was any danger from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Always be careful with old houses with old boilers that may be susceptible to leaks of carbon monoxide. You can often tell if there is a leak if there appears to be a black burning mark around appliances and around your boiler. If you see this, it’s always best to get it checked out.
CO poisoning can occur without anyone noticing as Carbon Monoxide is an oderless clear gas.