A silent killer in the home

Vanessa Robinson’s Story –

Nearly four years ago I lived every parent’s nightmare when I lost my two sons to carbon monoxide poisoning. I want to share some information that will hopefully prevent your family from suffering a similar tragedy.

My sons Chase and Tyler were aged eight and six years at the time of their deaths in May 2010. They were normal, healthy boys living with me in our rented home near Shepparton.

It had never occurred to me that a silent killer could be lurking in our home. We lived in a nice home with a big backyard within a lovely neighbourhood which right around the corner from my mother. The killer was in the form of a gas wall heater that hadn’t been properly serviced by the landlord for many years.

It was a typical Saturday in May when I put Chase and Tyler to bed. The autumn nights were cold and I left the gas heater running. In the middle of the night the boys became unsettled so they came into my room and went back to sleep with me. They never woke up.

Unbeknownst to me, our gas wall heater was leaking carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a silent killer – you can’t see it, smell it or taste it. The gas wall heater was faulty and it hadn’t been serviced for years – it was filling our home with poisonous gas that would kill my children and leave me – after recovering consciousness – with long-term, debilitating health problems.

Testing revealed the home heater’s carbon monoxide levels reached to over 5000 parts per million – far above a safe level of 10 parts per million – and had a built-up layer of soot, dust and carpet lint causing much of the problem.

In 2011, I started The Chase and Tyler Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that works nationwide to raise awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning and help Australians manage the risk by providing them with simple, clear and practical information.

The Foundation is also currently lobbying for changes to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by faulty or un-serviced gas heaters and fuel burning appliances, particularly for those living in government and rented accommodation.

Dangers of Carbon Monoxide :

  • Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless, highly poisonous gas which can kill in minutes.
  • Carbon Monoxide poisoning can be caused by any fuel that burns or smoulders.

You can help manage the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home by:

  • Having your fuel burning appliances serviced at least every two years by a registered or licensed gas fitter
  • Install an Audible Carbon Monoxide alarm
  • Not running generators indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces
  • Ensuring all flues, vents and chimneys are unblocked and functioning properly
  • Watching for danger signs around your fuel burning appliances including:
  • Soot or stains on or around your gas appliance or vents
  • Excessive condensation in the room where the appliance is installed
  • Lazy yellow-orange coloured flames, including from your pilot light
  • Understanding the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

My message is simple: have your gas heating appliances serviced by a registered gas fitter a minimum of every two years. This applies to every type of gas fuel burning heater, including central heating units, space heaters, wall furnaces and water heaters. This is the only reliable way of reducing your risk of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by gas heaters.

Only some gasfitters are qualified to take carbon monoxide readings. When booking a gasfitter, you need to ask if they are registered and if they have a carbon monoxide analyser. This is special equipment that will take a reading and detect any CO emissions from your gas heater.

I urge you to visit www.chaseandtyler.org.au to find out how to keep your family safe. You can also find information on the Energy Safe Victoria website – www.esv.vic.gov.au.

The cost of servicing your appliance and purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm is nothing compared with the life-long pain of losing loved ones. Please make sure your home isn’t harboring a silent killer – have your gas heating appliances serviced regularly.

Learn more about this issue and Vanessa’s wonderful work at the Chase and Tyler Foundation website – www.chaseandtyler.org.au

Available at the Chase and Tyler Foundation

Available at the Chase and Tyler Foundation

Melissa Wittig

Melissa Wittig is a 'health' focused Interior Designer, Owner of Healthy Interiors, App author of The Healthy Home App, writer, speaker and mum. As a healthy home advocate Melissa consults with organisations and clients in the property, architectural, building & private sectors in relation to design and lifestyle factors that contribute to creating healthy interiors and sustainable living. She writes about aspects of creating a healthy home at www.healthyinteriors.com.au, stop by to download the free healthy home ebook or connect with Healthy Interiors on Facebook or Instagram.

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