Just as the cold snap gets into full swing we hear that those who crowd around a fire to keep warm may well be putting not just their health but their very lives at risk.
The risk is associated with any heat source involving combustion such as gas, oil and yes even wood and coal.
The source of the danger is carbon monoxide (CO). To put it bluntly CO will kill you! It is one of the most toxic compounds known to us. One single breath of pure CO will kill you …. immediately!
You cannot see, taste or smell CO. And many times people suffering from CO poisoning will have it misdiagnosed as the results of a virus or 'chronic fatigue'. And then you get sent home to recover!
CO comes as a result of burning such things as oil, paraffin, 'bottled' gas, coal, coke, charcoal, wood, paper, petrol and diesel. Just about anything then.
The problems occur when there is no effective ventilation and flues are blocked by leaves and sheltering wildlife. Something as simple as a plant growing over the summer and blocking a vent may prove fatal.
Lynn Griffiths, the founder of the Carbon Monoxide Awareness charity wants to bring to the public's attention the dangers associated with CO poisoning. She and her four children developed severe health problems after being exposed to CO and she does not want another family to go through what they did.
Over the last few days there have probably been thousands if nor hundreds of thousands of combustion based fires just started up with no realisation of the dangers.
Here is Lynn's 'seven point check-list' to minimise the risk:
- Get any fuel-burning appliances serviced regularly by a properly qualified engineer.
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm – one with an audible alarm.
- Sweep chimneys and flues every year if you use solid fuel.
- If you rent your accommodation, ask your landlord for an up-to-date gas safety record.
- Keep flues, air vents and grilles clear and ensure rooms are well ventilated.
- If you are entitled to a free gas safety check from your gas supplier, take it up.
- Don't ignore symptoms.
This is what Lynn said: "People who know nothing about carbon monoxide poisoning often cover air bricks to prevent draughts, but they're unaware they are also blocking ventilation vital to avoid poisoning. I believe my family only survived their exposure to carbon monoxide because I was asthmatic. I used to keep a small window open day and night throughout the year to allow fresh air into the house. This fresh air saved our lives. There is so much emphasis on keeping warm over winter – especially for older people. They are actively encouraged to stop any draughts. But I truly believe that carbon monoxide is far more of a health risk than hypothermia. My children and I were constantly being told by our GP to keep warm by staying by the fire. All the while we were being poisoned by carbon monoxide. This is the reason why I want to warn people. I want to see families talking about carbon monoxide to each other. I want them to think about their neighbours' health, and keep an eye on the old person next door."
The symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, nausea and dizziness, feeling tired and confused, and sometimes difficulty breathing. If you have the slightest fear that you are suffering from CO poisoning, switch off the appliances, get outside and get medical help. At least 50 people a year die from CO poisoning, don't let your family figure in those statistics.
More information can be found:
One of the best things people can do is get their gas appliances checked by a properly qualified gas safety engineer. Before you let someone check yours make sure they are on the gas safety register.
As Lynn says on her flyers, some people qualify for free gas safety checks:
'If you are over pension age, disabled, chronically sick and receiving pension credit or council tax benefit or housing benefit, you can probably get a free Gas Safety check from your energy supplier. (See the back of their bill.) You can also get one if you have had gas work done in the last 6months. If your home is rented then your landlord must provide a Gas Safety check every 12months.'