Brothers Chase and Tyler Robinson from Mooroopna died as a result of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from an unserviced gas heater. This is not an isolated incident. According to Energy Safe Victoria, nine people lost their lives in Victoria as a result of CO poisoning since 2000.
CO is an odourless, colourless, tasteless and non-irritating gas produced from incomplete combustion of carbonaceous fossil fuel. This means that we can’t see or smell it, making us unaware of exposure to it.
Amongst other causes, improperly maintained heating systems can lead to excessive emissions of CO. When inhaled, CO is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, where it combines with haemoglobin reducing oxygen carrying capacity to the vital organs.
The poisoning severity depends on CO concentration, the length of exposure and the general health of the exposed person. Most vulnerable are the elderly, infants, and those suffering from cardiovascular or lung disease, anaemia, increased metabolic rate and pregnant women for whom exposure can lead to fetal developmental disorders and fetal death.
CO exposure symptoms may resemble the flu or food poisoning, making identification of the real cause difficult. Early symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. These symptoms should not be ignored, particularly if they consistently occur in the same environment. Repeated exposure further affects the brain and heart function and can be fatal.
To reduce the risk, household gas heaters should be inspected and serviced regularly. Energy Safe Victoria recommends biennial maintenance servicing. Another method of protection is the installation of an electronic carbon monoxide alarm, similar to a residential smoke detector.
Beware of the killer in your lounge room.
Energy Safe Victoria (2011). Landlords, agents and tenants, Your responsibilities. Victoria: Energy Safe Victoria. Retrieved from http://www.esv.vic.gov.au/Portals/0/About%20ESV/Files/Brochures/Landlord.pdf
Kao, L. W. & Nanagas, K. A. (2004). Carbon monoxide poisoning. Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America, 22, 985-1018. doi: 10.1016/j.emc.2004.05.003
Meredith, T. & Vale, A. (1988). Carbon monoxide poisoning. British Medical Journal, 296, 77-79. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2544692/pdf/bmj00267-0003.pdf
Raub, J. A., Mathieu-Nolf, M., Hampson, N. B. & Thom, S. R. (2000). Carbon monoxide poisoning – a public health perspective. Toxicology, 145, 1-14. Retrieved from http://centerforhealthyhousing.org/Portals/0/Contents/Article0364.pdf
The Australian. (2013). Victoria landlord cleared over deaths of Chase and Tyler Robinson. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/victoria-landlord-cleared-over-deaths-of-chase-and-tyler-robinson/story-e6frg6nf-1226688051777
This post was written by Gosia for the subject Screening and Monitoring in Occupational, Health and Safety 2014