The Past, Present, and Future of Gas Detection

Gas detection has come a long way since its inception over a hundred years ago...

The Past, Present, and Future of Gas Detection

With potentially hazardous and combustible materials present within the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries, gas and flame detection devices should take precedence at your facility.

Thanks to MSA – The Safety Company, gas and flame detection has come a long way since its introduction over a century ago. From the use of canaries (yes you read that correctly) to legitimate fixed and portable detection devices, let’s take a look at how this life-saving technology has evolved over the years…


Canaries, Mice, and Rats?!

The state-of-the-art gas and flame detection used today is a far cry from where it began. For over a century, miners relied on canaries, mice, and rats to alert them to the underground buildup of undetectable gases such as methane and carbon dioxide.

Caged canaries were favored due to their resemblance to the part of our nervous system which controls breathing, as well as the fact that they have an extremely loud chirp. Their high metabolism made them more susceptible to noxious fumes than humans. If the canaries stopped chirping and started shaking their cage…well, it was time to get out of the mine.

Mice were also used to this effect, but were deemed less reliable indicators than canaries. While rats are traditionally considered repulsive in the traditional workplace, mine workers welcomed their presence. The reason? Rats sensed danger sooner than they could. If the rats started scurrying out of the tunnels, miners knew it was time to leave.

The First Man-Made Gas Detector

Just before the Roaring 20’s, Guy Burrell, in association with the Bureau of Miners, had been experimenting with Hoolamite, the iodine pentoxide indicator for carbon monoxide (MSA won its patent at an auction).

The goal was to use it in carbon monoxide detectors in an effort to finally replace the canary as the most reliable means for gas detection. The Hoolamite indicator was simply a small glass tube filled with a powdered chemical. If any carbon monoxide was present within the air drawn through the tube, the powder would change color, warning miners the air is unsafe. The device was so sensitive, it could detect gas as low as 0.01 percent!

By 1919, MSA had perfected the detector. Mine workers now knew when the atmosphere was becoming toxic, providing enough time for them to put on MSA’s All Service Gas Mask. This detector was the first in what would be a long history of gas and flame detection devices, setting a high standard for the industry.

Gas detection today and beyond

Today, our means for detecting harmful gas are a lot less barbaric than they were just a century ago. MSA’s continued dedication to providing the safest working conditions ensures products need to be updated continuously to fit changing safety needs/requirements.

One way MSA has been innovating and paving the way for the future of gas detection is with the Ultima X5000. This device works smarter utilizing Bluetooth wireless technology and has an authentication protocol for enhanced safety and security. This new, modern technology reduces setup time by at least 50% and allows the capability to check status and get alerts from up to 75 ft (23 m) away.

The X5000 features DualSensing technology, allowing it to be connected to 2 sensors at the same time with TruCal technology.  TruCal will save you time and money by extending calibration intervals (up to 18 months), validated performance between calibrations and automated pulse check on each unit. Its new design features an Organic LED (OLED) display and bright status LED’s for extreme visibility, in varying conditions.

Check out our tutorial below on how to set-up and calibrate the X5000 using Bluetooth!

To learn more about how the X5000 and other MSA devices can impact your plant safety, contact Eastern Controls via email at or phone at 610-325-4600. And remember…Safety Starts Here!



Evan Ludwig | Marketing Communications Specialist

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