is it possible??

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is it possible??

Postby atlantis » Fri Feb 01, 2013 11:24 pm

Something happened a few years ago an in hindsight I think it was due to tmau .... anyway b4 I was diagnosed with it I had been bullied out of one job an took another doin security work ( nightshifts) so as few as people would b affected by my problem . Unfortunately I had to do training during the day , I was prob eating all the wrong foods an I def was extremely stressed out . I was working in a huge office standing by the lifts when I had a full on tmau episode everyone started complaining about the stench ( rotten eggs app) i as usual couldn't smell it . Five minutes later fire alarms went off an building was evacuated ( I went home never to return ) . I told Dr lachmann about this an he said it couldn't possibly b due to tmau , I don't know maybe he has specialist knowledge on fire alarm systems , but I have since read that strong odours do set off some alarms ! Has anyone else had this happen or have an opinion on it ? I m lookin back laughing but really that was an all time low !
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Tenacity » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:11 pm

Hi Okeeffechambers,

Sorry to hear this happened to you. It sounds traumatic to say the least.

My science knowledge is quite basic, so I might not be the best person to answer, although I will certainly give it a go!

I guess my first question would be 'can you remember what kind of fire alarm system was in the building?' There are a few different types.

Obviously there's the kind of fire alarm you manually trigger by breaking glass etc. I guess there's always the possibility that somebody thought a device had been let off in the building, and decided it was best to evacuate and be sure. If that's the case then it's probably just as well you have a good sense of humour! I would laugh if it happened to me, but certainly wouldn't want to go back and tell everybody it was me. :(

Then there are two main types of smoke alarms. Firstly there's the photo-something-or-other kind, which is triggered by smoke disrupting the flow of light. If this is the kind of fire alarm that was in the building, then I can categorically state that TMA could NEVER set this off, as it is a tiny molecule that doesn't block light in any way.

The second one I am less sure about, but I will take you through my thought process. These are called ionization sensor smoke alarms, and they work by turning the oxygen and nitrogen that's naturally in the air into things called ions by removing their electrons. So long as these ions stay inside the detector, the alarm will not be triggered. When smoke enters the detector, the ions react with the smoke, and the detector can't work anymore. That's when the alarm sounds.

Trimethylamine has two little electrons floating around on its central nitrogen atom. They're what binds with oxygen in the odorless TMA N-oxide. TMA on its own is completely stable, and so is oxygen, which is why you need an enzyme to force it to bind with oxygen. However, a single oxygen ion could actually bind with TMA to make TMA N-oxide. If that's the case, then a high volume of TMA entering the detector would remove the oxygen ions that are keeping the alarm from sounding.

However, I still don't think this would set off the alarm, and here's why.
-Firstly you would need a REALLY high amount of TMA to enter the sensor, and I'm not sure one person could produce enough
-Secondly, while TMA is a gas at room temperature, TMA N-oxide is not. Any that was formed inside the detector would instantly fall to the ground making way for more oxygen and nitrogen ions to be formed, and these would keep the alarm working
-We have the most sensitive ionization sensor smoke detector in the world in our house. It drives me nuts, as it always goes off when I'm cooking on the gas with a high flame. However, I've stood under it with a bad cold (bad colds give me bad TMAU - see my thread on this board) and it has NEVER even given half a beep.

Finally, there are carbon monoxide detectors, etc, but if these are all well maintained by the building management they shouldn't malfunction in the presence of other gases.

And that's the best answer I can give!

So my limited understanding is telling me it's EXTREMELY unlikely, although not completely impossible.

Can anybody improve on my answer?

Tx
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Tenacity » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:39 pm

Sorry, me again! I turned off my computer and thought about what I'd written, then I realised it was wrong! A single oxygen atom would react with TMA to form TMA N-oxide, not an oxygen ion. Oxygen atoms don't exist on their own, although they could be temporarily formed as a by-product of the ionization process inside the sensor. However, these atoms are not what keeps the sensor working, so even if a small amount of TMA N-oxide was formed inside the detector, and even if it didn't instantly fall away (which it would), it couldn't set off the detector.

Therefore TMA can't set off any kind of properly functioning detector. The only way it could have been down to you is if a person set off the alarm to be safe.

Sorry, told you my science knowledge wasn't very good! However, as you can see, you only need a basic understanding of smoke detectors and basic chemistry to figure it out for yourself, so I'm sure this is what Dr Lachmann was thinking about when he answered your question.

Hope I helped in the end!

Tx
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Re: is it possible??

Postby atlantis » Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:15 pm

Hi tenacity , thanks so much for your answers an thank god its not possible! really appreciate the explanation so am goin to read it till I understand it. I guess mayb someone panicked an hit an alarm . Oh dear this is such a ridiculous thing to suffer from . Thanks again that's something I won't b worrying about any more . X
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Weak » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:40 am

Smells dont set off fire alarms, it is the smoke itself that does it. Recently had to replace the detectors in my parents house over the christmas break and i had to do some researching to see which was better for them as there too lazy to do it, this is what i know so far.

There are 2 types of smoke detectors not too sure about the names. The first kind has to do with light, there is a beam of light inside the smoke detector going from one side to the other, sorta like the same thing you see in the movies when people rob banks. When smoke enters there it blocks the light and sets off the alarm, so with these kinds of alarms theres no way your setting it off no matter how you smell. 2nd one is alot more complicated but it has to do with magnetic fields in a device in the smoke detector, There's a magnet inside with some radioactive thing. The radioactive stuff forces the atoms to become ions creating a negative current, when smoke enters it bonds with the atoms and keeps them from becoming ionic, the smoke detector picks up on the change in the electric current and goes off, I highly doubt that TMAU can set this off, I mean i could be wrong because im no scientist, but I would stand behind the statement that it just isnt possible. Mainly because TMAU doesnt oxidize isnt an oxidizing agent if that makes any sense.


I wouldn't put it past some jerk in the lobby who pulled the fire alarm as some kind of prank to clear out the room or something.
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Tenacity » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:19 pm

That's exactly what I said, only your post is infinitely more well explained. ;D I committed the sin of thinking while I was typing. I doubt I made any sense!

You are right, amines are technically a reducing agent (they can themselves be oxidised). However, the ions in the "radioactive thing" smoke detectors are actually positive, and would therefore react with a reducing agent. I think the reason they don't react is that an oxygen cation would have two few electrons for the amine to form a dative bond with it, and trimethylamine only has one lone pair, so it couldn't form a triple bond with a nitrogen ion. Oxygen and nitrogen are the only two ions in the detector, as far as I’m aware.

However, Okeeffechambers isn’t totally wrong, is she? There must be molecules that would cause a smell if they entered your nose and can also set off a smoke alarm? Trimethylamine just isn’t one of them…
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Re: is it possible??

Postby atlantis » Mon Feb 04, 2013 2:59 pm

Thanks again tenacity and weak for explaining it in a way I can understand, much love to you both! Xx
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Tenacity » Mon Feb 04, 2013 3:51 pm

You're welcome. Hope it did make sense in the end! Sorry to hear you've had a bad time. PM me if you ever want to chat about non-sciencey stuff...
Love,
Tx
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Weak » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:17 am

@Okeefchambers
Much Obliged, its always my pleasure to help out those in the community.

@Tenacity
Im not too sure, I mean I like everyone else have heard rumors in my life of some thing setting off smoke alarms but I dont know. Like i said I am not a scientist but regarding the second type of smoke detectors and smells. When we smell something it is actually small molecules that enter our nose and get absorbed or something like that, our nose then translates this molecule into what we call smell. So for instance when you say that something smells like peach pie it is because there are small molecules being swept up from the pie due to, convection? said molecule makes it way to our nose through the air and when it sticks to the membrance in there it gets registered, the brain says, oh this molecule is sweet or sour or bitter in varying degree's, those degree's = smell. It works the same way taste does except it is alot more sensitive as your not shoving said item in your nose but are rather picking up on small traces of it in the air, that also explains why some people can smell us and some cant, the same way some people can tolerate spicy foods and others cannot, or how some people like bitter things and others dont. With that said it is possible that some other things could set off a smoke alarm but there is a good chance we wouldnt be able to smell it, just like we can smell natural gas. The chemistry between our noses and the smoke alarms are very different.

I know thats kind of a douchey way to answer a question lol, the answer is that the question wasn't asked properly, or atleast the answer isn't relative to context of the conversation. But yes there are some things that would prevent the atoms in the smoke alarm from becoming ionic and thus set off the alarm, but that's pretty rare.

If TMAU did set off alarms then the alarms in your apartment would go off all the time, i live in a small 3 room apartment and my alarms never go off. Which is why I say that some guy probably just pulled the alarm. When you eliminate the impossible, what ever is left no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
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Re: is it possible??

Postby Tenacity » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:59 pm

Hi Weak,

Thanks for taking the time to respond to my email.

Yes, I know how the sense of smell works. I assumed you did too, as your understanding of science seems quite good. :)

All I meant was that Okeeffechambers has heard that smells can set of smoke detectors, and even though this concept is phrased in a way as to be technically inaccurate, the statement itself must have originated somewhere. Most of these statements do contain a grain of truth ;). I just meant that there must be molecules that would interact with both the olfactory receptor neurons and both of the main kinds of smoke detectors. Sulphur dioxide, for example, could probably set off an ionization sensor, and it can also be detected by ORNs in the nose. Certainly there are specialist detectors in the world that are designed only to detect sulphur dioxide.

Just trying to be helpful, really!

I agree with you about the possibility of somebody setting off the alarm manually, and that smoke detectors would be falsely sounding all the time if they could detect TMA. If you can actually make sense of anything I wrote (haha) you will see that I made both suggestions first. It's good to know we both independently arrived at the same conclusion in spite of our sketchy science knowledge, as it means we're that much more likely to be right. :D

Have a good week! x
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