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Much CO poisoning remains undetected, claims report

Reporting of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning in the UK is massively underestimating the problem, according to the Gas Safety Trust.
It claims in a new report that official CO incident figures relating to gas used for heating and cooking in residential applications do not reveal the true picture of how vulnerable UK householders are to low-level exposure from this harmful gas.
'While deaths and serious injuries are relatively straightforward to record since they derive from statutory investigations, such 'tip of the iceberg' data does not reveal the extent of what might be termed as 'near misses',' commented Mary Benwell, chairwoman of the Gas Safety Trust.
'The records do not capture information about the number of people who are unwittingly exposed to low levels of CO poisoning; levels that may cause long-term ill health but go undetected,' she added.
The Carbon Monoxide Hotspot Report identifies Symptom 'Blur' - a combination of key factors such as lack of CO symptom awareness and misdiagnosis - as a major area for concern.
It says: 'With its non-specific and wide-ranging symptoms, from nausea to headaches, it is easy for CO poisoning... to be confused with other illnesses and therefore go undetected, resulting in the under-reporting of the problem.'
To combat this, it calls for routine CO testing at post mortem and research with GP surgeries and other frontline heath practitioners to investigate levels of undiagnosed exposure.
The key objective of the Gas Safety Trust charity is to improve gas safety for the public and industry in the UK.
For further information, visit
13 October 2010


By George Cossey
13 October 2010 01:02:00
Having been involved in the heating trade for more years than I care to mention, I feel thatany and all CO incidents should be investigated and reported.

We specialize in gas fired appliances and although conventional flued appliances offer the greatest danger faulty seals and incorrectly installed and commissioned appliances can also be guilty of raising CO levels in premises.

The greatest danger is to householders as they are more likely to share the space with the appliances, however this can also be true in a number of commercial premises particularly older style offices
By Stephanie Trotter OBE
13 October 2010 01:01:00
Independent registered charity CO-Gas Safety welcomes these comments by Dr. Mary Benwell on the lack of reporting of the 'near misses' and the need for routine testing of CO on death. We have been saying these things for years, if not decades.
When CO-Gas Safety was launched in 1995, hardly anyone would talk to us except the victims and their families. From them we quickly learned (within a few weeks) that the main reason for that death or injury was a lack of awareness of CO and a lack of testing of appliances for CO. We therefore lobbied endlessly and HSE undertook a fundamental review of gas safety. As a result recommendations were made by the Health and Safety Commission (now Executive) in 2000:-
1. To impose a levy on the gas suppliers to pay for raising awareness and for research and
2. That the gas emergency service carries and uses equipment to test appliances for CO (to make sure the source is found and made safe).
These recommendations were made with the support of the majority of the stakeholders, who were almost entirely industry. Sadly, these recommendations have not been implemented. Why not? Surely the fuel companies should always have raised awareness and the gas emergency service should always have had and used equipment to test appliances for CO?
Colin Breed MP, (our Lib. Dem MP), tabled an Early Day Motion (1032 in 2007) urging Government to implement these recommendations and achieved 121 signatures from MPs a high number for an EDM. Government refused to act. HSE seemed unable or unwilling to lobby for the required legislation. Why should the tax payer pay for the review and recommendations just so they can be ignored?
British Gas made 585 million profit in the first six months of this year (2010). Why are there no prime time TV warnings about a deadly gas that most people are unaware can be emitted from faulty cooking or heating appliances powered by any fuel that burns and cannot be sensed using human senses?
We have been collecting data of CO deaths and injuries from all fuels (gas, oil, solid, wood etc.) from media reports and other sources (e.g. victims) since 1995 and we try to check every death with the Coroner concerned. Most Coroners are very helpful as we send them our latest data. As far as we know the Gas Safety Trust does not do this. Nor does HSE. It took years to obtain names of the dead from HSE, although the names are in the public domain (public inquests) and collected with public money. Without the name of the person, who has died and the date of death, it is not possible to check with Coroners; nor is it possible to be sure suicides are excluded. We are concerned with accidental deaths.
Our data is freely published on our website (please download the statistics) and our list of named deaths (please download the ten page list of named deaths from 01.09.95 to 31.08.2009). WHY IS OUR DATA IGNORED?
Our new statistics will be published at the end of January at our schools poster prize giving event, which is our small effort to raise awareness since we lack the funds to pay for prime time TV warnings something we have lobbied for since about 1996. Surely this is so obviously needed? There are TV warnings about dangers we all know exist such as drink driving, smoking and even eating too much fat! Yet virtually nothing about CO.
We are also concerned about the other toxins in the products of combustion, such as mercury and manganese which, although apparently in tiny amounts, can build up in the body over months or years (unlike CO). For more about these please see Please note that it is impossible to inhale only CO unless inhaling CO from a cylinder of CO in a laboratory! (CO may be part of the other products of combustion).
We have pressed and are pressing for research (or the publication or information about existing research) on the emissions from a typical flueless appliance, (e.g. gas cooker) in a typical kitchen and also from other appliances in need of a service and perhaps with a blocked flue. From such research it will be possible to extrapolate the toxins (e.g. heavy metals such as mercury and manganese) that can build up in the body over months or years. Surely fuel companies must know what the emissions are from appliances powered by the fuels they supply, even when appliances are not operating perfectly? If not, surely they ought to know this and be warning their consumers?
Copyright CO-Gas Safety 2010
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