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Gas heaters — silent killers

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Islamabad: Every year during the winter season a number of families in Pakistan suffocate to death due to keeping the gas heaters on for the whole night during sleep and it is so mainly because the majority of our population is unaware of the precautionary measures needed to avoid losses while using gas heaters.

Gas heaters release emissions such as carbon monoxide directly into the room, increasing the level of indoor pollutants, which can potentially harm your health including a high incidence of respiratory symptoms.

Gas heaters also consume oxygen while burning, causing lower amounts of oxygen in the room if not properly ventilated. Poisoning can also result due to leakage of gas heaters accidentally in closed rooms.

Some people are more susceptible than others to suffer health effects such as heart disease patients, asthmatics, pregnant ladies, children and the elderly, explained Head of Community Medicine at CMH Lahore Medical College Professor Dr Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry while talking to ‘The News’.

He said that Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odourless, colourless and tasteless gas, so is difficult to detect. It is highly poisonous and deprives the body of oxygen. The individual is rendered completely helpless without warning and without feeling that he is being gassed. Thus one may become unconscious during sleep and ultimately die, he said.

He added that if the level of Carbon monoxide in a room goes above the ‘safe levels, people with heart disease may get chest pain or angina. Smokers with heart disease are particularly at risk. Young children, unborn babies and the elderly may also be affected, said Dr Ashraf.

He adds exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Symptoms include tiredness, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle weakness, confusion etc while exposure to extremely high levels of carbon monoxide can result in death.

He said a number of deaths every year in winter due to carbon monoxide poisoning can be avoided if some simple safety measures are ensured.

Talking of precautionary measures, he said the room needs to be well ventilated. Keep internal doors and at least one window open to allow fresh air to enter the room. Check that room vents are not blocked. Turn off all gas appliances before going to sleep. Never keep gas heaters on while to bed. Ensure that the gas supply is disconnected from the main. Even the ‘pilot’ should not be kept ‘On’. If the gas leakage is suspected, it should be detected by gas smell or by the sound of escaping gas and not by the application of naked lights, he said.

He added that if gas leakage is suspected, open doors and windows to ventilate the area, turn off all consumer safety shut-off valves and the meter shut-off valves and report immediately to gas authorities. Never use rubber pipes to gas equipment, he said.

He said the best option to minimise the bad effects of gas heaters, one should minimise the length of time that a gas heater is used. Have your gas heater serviced at least once a year. Heaters that are not in a good working order can release higher amounts of pollutants into your room, he said. “If possible, avoid the use of gas heaters.”

Professor Ashraf said that suspected cases of gas poisoning should be removed immediately from the source to the fresh air and evacuated to the nearest hospital. Be careful about using a gas heater, especially if anyone has heart disease or asthma, anyone is pregnant or elderly or you have small children, he concluded…Courtesy The News

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