Lack of venting system caused carbon monoxide exposure in fatal incident near Ashcroft

New Westminster, BC, April 10, 2017— BC Safety Authority (BCSA) has identified that the lack of a venting system caused carbon monoxide (CO) exposure, which is believed to have taken the lives of four people near Ashcroft, B.C on March 24. The BC Coroners Service is further investigating the cause of death and BCSA is working in collaboration with the Coroner. 

In its investigation report, BCSA states that a “water heater was installed inside the home without a vent system attached.” The water heater was a tankless, on demand type, where cold water could be heated instantly by a high output propane burner when a hot water tap was opened.

The report also notes that the hazardous levels of carbon monoxide were due to “extended operation of the water heater.”

“We are saddened by the tragedy in Ashcroft,” says Brad Wyatt, BCSA gas safety manager. “When our safety officers investigated the site, we found that the water heater was not vented to the outdoors which means toxic gases were released inside the home while the water heater burner was in use.”

Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas produced by burning carbon fuels such as propane, natural gas, oil, wood, charcoal, alcohol, kerosene or gasoline. Exposure to CO interferes with the body’s ability to absorb oxygen, which can result in serious illness or death.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure can initially be flu-like, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, confusion and dizziness. More severe CO poisoning symptoms can include chest pains, vomiting and convulsions. Children are at particular risk because they are affected by lower levels of CO. Other signs of a possible CO issue in a home are condensation on windows, dying plants, or having an entire family sick at the same time.

“For safety, it is always best to have a licensed contractor perform any gas work,” says Wyatt. “Gas-fired appliances should be serviced by a licensed gas contractor at least once a year. It’s also important to have CO detectors on each floor of a home.”

To prevent CO exposure, or related incidents, BCSA recommends the following:

  • All gas-fired appliances – including boilers, furnaces, hot water tanks, stoves, dryers and fireplaces – should be inspected and serviced by a licensed gas contractor at least once a year.
  • Ensure ALL combustion air supply and fresh air intakes into your home remain unobstructed and any screens are free of dust and debris.  
  • All households should be equipped with Canadian-certified CO detectors, ideally located on each floor of the home, close to bedrooms or sleeping areas.
    • Detectors should be tested annually and replaced every seven years.
    • CO detectors should never be disabled or deactivated due to alarms.
  • Gas work must be done by licensed contractors that hold a current Class A or Class B Gas Fitter or Gas Appliance Service Certificate of Qualification from BC Safety Authority. BCSA maintains a list of contractors on its website: http://www.safetyauthority.ca/contact/find-contractor. Select “gas” under “type.”
  • When using a wood burning fireplace, crack open a window to allow fresh air flow into the home. 

For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning and gas appliance safety, visit: http://www.safetyauthority.ca/carbon-monoxide

Read the investigation report

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About BC Safety Authority

BC Safety Authority is an independent, self-funded organization mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. In addition to issuing permits, licences and certificates, it works with industry to reduce safety risks through assessment, education and outreach, enforcement, and research.

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