Each year carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of a number of people in Northern Ireland but numerous near misses go unreported. Just last month, post mortem examinations revealed that carbon monoxide poisoning had caused the deaths of Irvinestown couple Killian and Pauline Scallon and a 37 years old Malaysian working in a local Chinese restaurant.
In August, two teenagers died after being overcome by the lethal gas while staying in a holiday home in Castlerock.
Dr Joseph, who is a lecturer in Applied Chemistry/Environmental Health at Ulster’s Jordanstown campus, says carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent killer.
“It is a highly toxic gas. It is colourless, odourless and tasteless, all of which makes it extremely difficult for it to be detected in our homes. Almost all fuels, except perhaps hydrogen, upon burning or combustion produce varying amounts of CO, depending on the availability of oxygen so CO can be produced in any fuel-burning appliance that is faulty, not properly maintained. Where ventilation is poor, CO can build up very quickly to dangerously high levels.
Dr Joseph said that potential sources of the lethal gas include gas cookers and gas fires, hot-water heaters and even open fires.
“During cold weather, we rely even more on household heating appliances and this increases the risk of CO poisoning. Being alert to the dangers and taking appropriate steps to minimise the risks could help save lives.”
Danger signs that CO may be leaking include: changes in the colour of the burner’s flame - yellow or orange flames where there should normally be blue flames; or sooty stains on the walls around fires and water heaters.
“Even at lower levels, carbon monoxide causes symptoms that are similar to flu or food poisoning, including headaches, tiredness, nausea and difficulty in thinking clearly.”
According to Dr Joseph, students in rented accommodation should be extra vigilant and be aware of the potential danger signs.
“Tenants should have a safety certificate from their landlord and the law states that the landlord should check appliances every year.”
Dr Joseph is a member of the charity Carbon Monoxide Awareness (www.co-awareness.org) which aims to enhance the public awareness of the dangers of CO poisoning.
“Blocked chimneys and flues can pose a serious risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in early winter, as many fires and boilers have not been used for months. An audible CO alarm would help alert people if they are at risk.”
“This could be one of your best investments ever and it could help save your life,” continued Dr Joseph. “However while it is important to get an alarm that has been approved to BS EN50291 and to have it checked regularly, a CO alarm is not a substitute for regular and correct maintenance.”
For further information on Carbon Monoxide Awareness please go to www.covictim.org