Twenty-two people died last year as a result of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, compared to 26 in 2013, according to figures released by the Poison Control Centre. The decrease can be attributed to this winter’s milder temperatures, says Marijke Fortuin, from the Poison Control Centre which advocates implementing a bonus scheme to encourage people to replace old bathrooms installations. Carbon monoxide, named the “silent killer”, is an odorless and colorless gas formed during the incomplete combustion of gas (natural gas, butane or propane), coal, oil or wood. Defective boilers are potential sources of carbon monoxide in the home. In 2014, there were 387 carbon monoxide-related incidents which affected a total of 841 people, 22 of which died. The previous year, the Poison Control Centre recorded 538 cases and 1,251 victims, 26 of which didn’t survive.
“This decrease is mainly due to the weather,” said Marijke Fortuin. “There are normally about thirty days of frost per year but there were only three last year. The number of cases of CO poisoning is higher in cold weather.” During the first two colder months this year, at least nine people died from CO poisoning.
The Poison Control Centre has recorded, however, a steady decline in the number of cases over the past few years. For Marijke Fortuin, it is imperative to push for old heating or hot water installations in bathrooms to be replaced as they are the main causes of accidents. She believes that a bonus scheme to encourage people to upgrade their installations should be set up, a system that is much simpler than the existing one.
She also warns that systematically installing a CO detector isn’t necessarily the answer. “This lulls people into a false sense of security,” she says. “CO detectors are not yet as effective as smoke alarms. CO detectors are chemical sensors that trigger an alarm when CO is already present. This means that in small spaces, the victim may already be unresponsive by the time the alarm goes off, which is why we put more emphasis on how important it is to have good quality installations in the first place.”