Carbon monoxide is a killer, so check it out

It’s Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week and the Health Protection Agency is advising people to have their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances – such as boilers, heaters and cookers – checked by an appropriately registered engineer before the winter sets in.

The latest figures show that there are around 40 accidental deaths a year from carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales1.

Dr John Harrison of the Health Protection Agency said: “Many of these deaths take place between November and February due to faulty fossil fuel and wood burning appliances, and are therefore preventable.

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“To lower the risk, people should ensure that their fossil fuel and wood burning appliances are regularly checked by an appropriately registered engineer.

“The HPA recommends that people have these appliances and their flues checked before the start of winter. Rooms in which appliances are used must also be adequately ventilated.”

The HPA also recommends that people should fit an audible CO alarm which meets European Standards EN 50291, in their homes. The installation of an alarm, which can be bought from most DIY retailers, should not, however, replace regular inspections by a registered engineer.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas which is difficult to detect. At high levels CO poisoning can cause sudden collapse, loss of consciousness and death. Other symptoms of CO poisoning include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, chest pains, nausea and vomiting.

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A study estimated that around 4,000 people attend accident and emergency departments in England each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning2. Although most of the 4,000 people were not sick enough to be admitted to hospital, it is known that long term exposure is associated with neurological effects - such as having difficulties in concentrating.

Dr Harrison said: “Although carbon monoxide is difficult to detect, there are sometimes indicators that may suggest a fault with domestic appliances or flues. The signs of trouble are black sooty marks on the radiants – the clay bars above the gas flames – of gas fires, sooty marks on the wall around stoves, boilers or fires, and smoke accumulating in rooms due to faulty flues.

“In addition, yellow instead of blue flames from gas appliances is another sign that there may be a fault with the appliance - although this does not apply to ‘fuel-effect’, ‘living-flame’ or ‘decorative-flame’ gas fires as they are designed to look like flames from solid fuel appliances.”

If you see any of these signs, turn off the appliance, open your windows and have an appropriately registered engineer service the appliance as soon as possible.

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