Dräger Monitors Protect ARCA from Invisible Gas

Dräger Monitors Protect ARCA from Invisible Gas

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas - often called "the invisible gas." Highly toxic to humans and animals after exposure in higher quantities, CO is emitted at remarkable rates by race cars working at horsepower 800 and above while motors approach 8800 revolutions per minute.

Whether traveling at 100 or 200 miles per hour in an ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards race, drivers are continuously at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning while behind the wheel of a high-performance machine. Though race cars are often engineered to seal the interior from carbon monoxide fumes, damage from minor accidents can create the smallest openings for a driver to be at risk. Moreover, air filters used in some closed-cockpit cars are often not constructed to keep harmful gas at bay even when all seals work properly.

Dräger Safety Inc. is an Official Product Sponsor in the ARCA Safety Initiative, playing a key role in protection from those resulting carbon monoxide emissions.

According to a University of Arizona study, "878 to 1513 deaths per year were attributed to unintentional CO poisoning in the United States" over a recent 10-year period. Poisoning is described as repeated exposure to more than 500 ppm, or parts per million. Though the death rate has since declined, danger still exists in the extreme conditions of a race car. Take, for example, the ends of two successful racing careers.

Rick Mast never won a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but he helped the sport reach one of its most important safety landmarks. Mast finished in the top five 36 times over 364 races between 1988 and 2002, but started to feel ill just after the start of the 2002 season. Having lost weight and skipped races to undergo intensive medical testing, Mast was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of repeated exposure to exhaust fumes inside his car. Since Mast's retirement, air intake systems inside stock cars like those used in NASCAR and ARCA have been re-designed to force exit away from the driver.

Additionally, Richard Petty - winner of 200 NASCAR races and a seven-time NASCAR champion - began wearing a fighter pilot's mask near the end of his storied career to filter the air entering his body.

Though both drivers took action to avoid further damage wrought by CO fumes inside the race car, Dräger adds a step in its role as an ARCA Safety Initiative partner.

A company founded in 1889 in Lübeck, Germany as Dräger und Gerling, Dräger's first patent, the Lubeca valve, reduced carbon dioxide pressure in beer machines. Since then, Dräger has risen successfully to the challenges of markets across the globe with technical milestones to ensure the safety of the pioneers of an era that changed the world.

With over 10,000 employees today in Germany, China, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Sweden, South Africa, and the United States, today's Dräger is playing a key role in race car safety. The company's Safety division, located in Sugarland, Texas, supplies to the ARCA Safety Initiative several carbon monoxide monitors which are used to check CO levels for drivers before, during, and after races.

The monitors are placed in approximately four to six cars - selected randomly - during a given race, and give detailed information every 10 seconds to describe the CO levels inside a race car. Say a race takes 90 minutes to complete; that's 540 different readings for CO, painting a very accurate picture of what the driver inside faces from the invisible gas.

For example, at a race at Toledo Speedway in May 2010, one car peaked at 590 ppm at 2:09 p.m., just minutes after the start of the 200-lap Menards 200. That level fell and rose dramatically throughout the race, never again reaching that peak, but topping 400 ppm on five more occasions over a 90-minute event. Repeated exposure to the 590 ppm level could have been harmful for the driver, but Dräger's CO tracking device provided an accurate reading of what was happening, allowing the driver to race safely.

(The sample car's CO graph is shown below.) 

If 500 ppm is what's considered poisonous, what's normal? Researchers describe 0.1 ppm as the natural atmospheric level of carbon monoxide, with 0.5 to 5 the average level in homes. Modern vehicle exhaust emissions and properly-adjusted gas stoves in homes range between 5 and 15 ppm of CO emissions, which falls well short of what is often experienced in a race car.

In a dense metropolitan area, automobile exhaust from many cars averages to be about 100 to 200 ppm. Looking at the sample graph of CO readings during a typical ARCA Racing Series event, average in-race readings seem consistent with the sampled metropolitan area.

Adding to its work with in-car monitors, Safety Initiative officials also use Dräger equipment to take CO readings of drivers and crew members with a small device placed on the finger. The device provides a percentage reading, with 0-5 percent considered normal for a non-smoker, and 5-10 percent considered normal for a smoker but requiring immediate treatment for a non-smoker if symptoms occur.

Readings of 10-15 percent often require a high flow of oxygen, and readings above that range are very abnormal and require immediate treatment for any person.

In the instance of the sample driver at Toledo Speedway, other safety features inside the race car helped provide the driver a safe rating of 4 percent.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, chest pain, and vomiting, but because those characteristics are often so closely related to other ailments - often at less severe levels - a proactive approach is required to combat CO poisoning, and Dräger successfully fills that role for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards and the ARCA Safety Initiative.

In the end, why is it all important? Sure, drivers want to stay in the race car, something Mast was unable to do in the early 1990s. The effects outside of the ARCA Racing Series, though, are far-reaching. The University of Arizona study found that exposure to CO "reduced exercise tolerance due to increased chest pain" and results in "reduced exercise performance." Other health effects, according to the study, included increased hospital admission for congestive heart failure, behavioral impairment, reduced birth weight, an increase in SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), and an increased daily mortality rate.

Carbon monoxide might be invisible and without a distinct smell, but there's no question the gas produces a unique set of challenges.

More information about Drägerwerk AC and Dräger Safety is available at http://www.draeger.com/.

Dräger Safety, a division of Drägerwerk AC, partners with and contributes to the ARCA Safety Initiative.

September 12, 2011  dragersamplemay2010.jpg

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