Carbon Monoxide is a serious public health concern. Every year, around 40 people lose their lives as a result of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales alone, while England sees around 4,000 Accident and Emergency visits every year following exposure to the gas. These incidents are not spread evenly across the calendar, either – the winter months see a disproportionate number of CO-related deaths, as people turn broken boilers and heating appliances on after months of disuse and succumb to the deadly fumes.
Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week, which began yesterday (17th November), aims to bring these numbers down by increasing the public’s knowledge of this dangerous gas. The campaign, organised by charity CO-Awareness, informs people in the UK that:
- CO is not just created through the incomplete combustion of natural gas, as many believe, but also through incomplete combustion of charcoal, biomass, wood, oil, diesel, petrol, LPG, coal and any other hydrocarbon fuel.
- People can develop CO poisoning from appliances in their own home, from CO leaks in adjoining properties, and in holiday homes, tents, caravans, campervans, cars and even on boats.
- Chimneys must be swept and fuel-burning appliances should be serviced every year.
- Tenants should know what their landlord must do to protect their health and safety.
Therefore, to protect the health of you, your loved ones and your neighbours, you should have any wood- or fuel-burning appliances, including cookers, heaters and boilers, serviced by a registered engineer before the winter strikes.
You should also purchase a CO alarm. Carbon monoxide detectors can be bought from most supermarkets and DIY stores. However, a CO alarm should not replace or minimise the need for regular servicing of gas appliances and other fossil fuel and wood-burning appliances. CO alarms must meet European Standards EN 50291, and should be fitted in rooms containing fuel-burning appliances. These rooms should also be properly ventilated.
Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards representative Dr Simon Bouffler said that while carbon monoxide can be hard to detect, a number of indicators can suggest that flues or appliances are faulty.
Some of the “signs of trouble” Dr Bouffler pointed to include:
- Smoke accumulating in rooms with faulty fires
- Black marks above the radiants of gas fires
- Sooty marks around fires, stoves and boilers
- Yellow pilot lights and other yellow flames from gas appliances, aside from those appliances developed to create realistic flames
If people see these signs, Dr Bouffler advised them to turn off the appliance, open their windows and get a registered engineer to check the faulty item as soon as possible. It is also advisable for people to leave their house and go outside, and to call the NHS on 111 for further information.
Warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headaches, chest pains, breathing problems, drowsiness and fatigue, dizziness or feelings of vertigo, nausea, and vomiting. Serious warning signs include collapse, and loss of consciousness. If the victim is not taken to safety promptly, brain damage and death can follow.