Cross sensitivity of toxic sensors: Chris investigates the gases that the sensor is exposed to

30 Oct 2014

Working in Technical Support, one of the most common questions from customers is for bespoke configurations of toxic gas sensors. This frequently leads to an investigation into the cross sensitivity of the different gases that the sensor will be exposed to.

Cross sensitivity responses will vary from sensor type to sensor type, and suppliers often express the cross sensitivity in percentages while others will specify in actual parts-per-million (ppm) levels.

Cross sensitivity is a sensor’s reac­tion to other gases which can “interfere” with how the sensor reacts. Exposing a sensor to a gas that is not the target gas can cause an undesirable effect; this may be a positive response, negative response or inhibition.

Positive Response
A positive response means that sensors respond to not just the target gas but to another gas as well.
This could give the user the impression that there is target gas present when there isn’t, or that there is more target gas present than is really the case. This may cause the user to induce ventilation, evacuate from the area or take another corrective action to remove the gas hazard, which may not be necessary.

A good example of a positive responding situation:

  • A CO sensor which has a positive response to H2 at a rate of 60%. Therefore, if the CO sensor saw 200ppm of H2 then the CO sensor will show around 120ppm (i.e. 60% of 200ppm).

Negative response
A negative response is when sensors produce a reduced response to the target gas if also exposed to a gas that causes a negative response. If this happens, the user may be exposed to the target gas and not know they are at risk, or it may reduce the level of gas seen on the instrument display as it is been reduced because of this negative effect.

A couple examples of a negative responding situation:

  • An SO2 sensor has a -120% response to NO2. Therefore if an SO2 sensor sees 5ppm of NO2 at the same time as 5ppm of SO2, the reading would be reduced by 6ppm showing a 0ppm reading or even a negative value, depending on how your instrument works.
  • If the same sensor sees 2ppm NO2 then the reading would be reduced by 2.4ppm, giving you a reading of only 2.6ppm SO2 when exposed to 5ppm SO2.

Inhibition is similar to a negative response; however what actually happens is the sensor will not respond at all to the target gas if exposed to the inhibitor at the same time, or the sensor may take hours if not days to recover before responding to the target gas again.

For example:

  • a Cl2 sensor is inhibited by H2S
  • SO2 sensors can be inhibited by NH3 and take many hours to recover before responding again to SO2.

Therefore when using your multitoxic gas instrument make sure you are aware of the sensor cross sensitivities, as it may very well save your life.

7 thoughts on “Cross sensitivity of toxic sensors: Chris investigates the gases that the sensor is exposed to

    1. Hi Mike,
      We don’t have a specific chart due to the variety from sensor to sensor. Manufactures can also change their sensor specifications and designs without notice therefore we would recommend enquiring about any specific cross sensitivity data from our Technical Support team –

  1. Have you ever seen the strong cross-interference of the SO2 sensor with terpenes (pinene). These are unsaturated, polycyclic hydrocarbons and I would not expect this to be a problem. In one of the paper mills they report this as an issue? Is it possible? Or it is interference with something else?

  2. Hello.

    How would a cross-sensitivity issue with sensors be solved? At our zinc plants, we are trying a Drager gas analyser for arsine but we have a cross-sensitivity for SO2. We tried to contact manufacturer – no luck yet. Is there something you would be an of assistance for us by providing a summary for you could offer and whether your product experienced that problem and how you were solving it?

    1. Hi Almaz,

      Thank you for contacting Crowcon.

      Please note that we cannot provide any information on other manufacturers instruments or sensors. We can however provide you with information regarding Crowcon products; where our Triple Plus+ portable instrument has Arsine (AsH3) detection capabilities.

      You are correct in saying that there are cross sensitivities between Arsine (AsH3) and Sulphur Dioxide (SO2). Technical Note GEN089 Sensor Cross Sensitivity Portable Instruments (link: states that Arsine (AsH3) has a medium (15% to 60%) cross-sensitivity response to Sulphur Dioxide (SO2); this is a safe situation as the Arsine sensor will show a positive reading in the presence of Sulphur Dioxide. Please note that this is due to a chemical reaction within the sensor and therefore cannot be prevented.

      Hope this helps with your enquiry.

      Best Regards

      Technical Support Team

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