CARBON MONOXIDE: Councillor calls for more detectors after tragedy
A CAMPAIGNER and councillor who lost her partner to a “silent killer” has called for more detectors to be installed in homes to save lives.
Stockton councillor Louise Baldock has championed carbon monoxide safety for years after her fiancé Michael Price was killed by the gas in 1999.
Now the council’s people select committee is looking at what more can be done to flag up dangers in homes across the borough.
About 60 people die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in England and Wales.
The gas has no smell or taste – and when breathed in, it mixes with the haemoglobin in your blood which carries oxygen around your body.
This stops blood being able to carry oxygen to cells causing them to fail and die.
Cllr Baldock launched the scrutiny review and told Monday’s committee how her then partner had died following a fault with his Parkray Stove.
“He was burning smokeless fuel in his home and he’d had a fall of bricks in the flue in the preceding years and hadn’t known,” she said.
“Soot had built up around bricks in the flue until the point where the fumes from the fire weren’t going anywhere.
“Because he was burning smokeless fuel, there was no indicator that the fumes weren’t going up the chimney.
“And because of the kind of fire he had at that time, the manufacturer said you didn’t need to sweep the flue as it was self-contained, which was obviously an error.”
The committee heard the leak took three of four days to kill Mr Price.
He was 45.
“At the time, we thought he probably had flu,” added Cllr Baldock.
“But after he died it became obvious through a post-mortem that he’d died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“It’s a horrible thing and completely unnecessary.
“It ruined my life and ruined his mother’s life, who never got over it.
“It was a terrible, totally unnecessary death.”
Campaigning after tragedy
Carbon monoxide is formed when fuels, such as natural gas, oil, coal and wood, do not burn fully – and it can be a danger from faulty appliances such as cookers, heaters and central heating boilers.
Barbecues, and anything which burns a carbon product, can also produce the gas.
The member for Parkfield and Oxbridge took to campaigning in the wake of the tragedy – helping to back Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week and visiting Parliament with others who’d been affected.
“We learned about the different ways we might limit the number of deaths,” said Cllr Baldock.
“It doesn’t have to kill you – it can make you permanently very ill.
“Some of the people who campaigned with us were in wheelchairs.
“They had stroke-like symptoms, or illness which looked like multiple sclerosis.
“But they were able to determine later that what they actually had was carbon monoxide poisoning.
“It really damages your central nervous system.”
Cllr Baldock believed the council review could save more lives, or stop some people becoming very poorly, if it raised awareness of the potential dangers.
Belt detectors backed
Housing providers and the North East Ambulance Service were among those asked what they did to track possible cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Cllr Baldock told the committee how one local authority on Merseyside had ensured its housing officers attached detectors to their belts to alert them to problems in tenant’s homes.
“I was curious to know whether that was something which was taken up by any of the social landlords in our area,” she added.
Regulations require landlords to install both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in rented residential accommodation.
Fines of up to £5,000 can be meted out for non-compliance.
But the rules don’t apply to social housing providers yet.
Peter Akers, from North Star Housing, said the association ensured every room with a fuel burning appliance in it had a detector – with six month targets for checks in homes with solid fuel burners.
He said he hadn’t thought about wearable detectors – adding it was a “really interesting suggestion”.
Nick Warden, from Accent Housing, told the committee it was interesting the legislation on detectors only applied to private landlords and not social landlords.
He added: “It’s interesting really because what is the difference? If you’re a landlord, you’re a landlord.
“In this instance, you should still be governed by the same regulations.”
Mr Warden said Accent was looking at hard-wiring carbon monoxide detectors in its properties – explaining how battery operated devices could bring snags.
He added: “The battery detectors are brilliant – but unfortunately like anything else, when people start to decorate and move things around their homes, they end up on a mantelpiece, on a sideboard, and then they end up in a drawer.
“Then they’re not doing what they’re meant to do.
“Education is absolutely critical for us.”
Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, tiredness, drowsiness, nausea and vomiting.
Committee members also shared their own close shaves and problems with their own household appliances.
Billingham councillor Helen Atkinson said she’d felt “sick and horrible” after a screw hadn’t been fitted properly on her gas fire.
“It’s very dangerous,” she added.
And Cllr Eileen Johnson revealed how a fault with an imitation gas fire also led to a leak in her home.
The rise in popularity of wood burning stoves in recent years also sparked calls for the probe to keep one eye on their spread.
After an hour of discussion, panellists backed urging home visitors – such as social workers, electricians, and plumbers – carrying small carbon monoxide detectors.
They were also keen to see more detectors in homes – with Cllr Bill Woodhead suggesting devices should have a fixed price, or should even come free.
Cllr Baldock said she felt moved by the positive reaction of officers and housing providers on boosting safety.
She added: “We sometimes get hung up on different appliances but the thing to remember is carbon monoxide is caused by anything that causes carbon when it burns.”
Official recommendations will now be drawn up before going to council leaders later this year.
Safety tips (source: Stockton Council)
- Never use ovens or gas ranges to heat your home.
- Never use oversized pots on your gas stove or place foil around the burners.
- Make sure rooms are well ventilated and do not block air vents.
- If your home is double glazed or draught proofed, make sure there’s still enough air circulating for any heaters that are in the room.
- Do not use gas-powered equipment and tools inside your home if you can avoid it. Only use them in a well-ventilated area, and put the engine unit and exhaust outside.
- Always wear a safety mask when using chemicals that contain methylene chloride.
- Do not burn charcoal in an enclosed space, such as on an indoor barbecue.
- Do not sleep in a room that has an unflued gas fire or paraffin heater.
- Fit an extractor fan in your kitchen (if it does not already have one)
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
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