Carbon Monoxide Study Saves Lives: BEST Research Institute
28 May 2012
A Liverpool John Moores University study involving two fire services and a council found dangerous levels of Carbon Monoxide (CO) in homes and helped save the lives of people in two cities.
The results of the study were announced at a Carbon Monoxide Conference held recently at LJMU. The keynote speaker at the conference was Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, chair of an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group into Carbon Monoxide's impact.
Opened by LJMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Weatherill, the Conference discussed how a total of 120 homes in Liverpool and Coventry were found to have high levels of Carbon Monoxide, but the occupiers were unaware of the threat. Of these 120, 36 had high levels of Carbon Monoxide with readings of more than 50 parts per million, according to data loggers left by firefighters from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service and West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service.
More than 27,000 properties were visited in the study in Coventry and Liverpool and, on average, 90% did not have CO alarms. Dr Andrew Shaw, lead academic on the study for LJMU's Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Research Institute, said:
"This is the first study of its kind in the UK of this size. Previous studies have looked at 500 to 600 dwellings in a targeted fashion. The study results shows that with the lack of ownership of CO alarms in the Coventry and Liverpool areas there is a significant risk of an increase in CO-related incidents occurring within homes, especially if there are more severe winters as in the one at the end of 2011. Although the Home Fire Safety Check (HFSC) stage of the study found 84 properties out of 27,500 had a positive CO reading, the longer-term data loggers showed that there is a significant presence of low-level CO in homes that may not trigger a CO alarm but could still potentially lead to long-term health problems. As the majority of properties didn’t have an alarm fitted these could potentially lead to more serious events. These are the initial findings from this study but the figures will continue to be analysed and we will be looking into the differences in the socially deprived and non deprived areas. This study is ongoing. Accidental exposure to Carbon Monoxide kills on average 50 people every year in England and Wales and around 4,000 are diagnosed at A&E departments with CO poisoning."
The study, which stems from the work on social determinates for health inequalities by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, was split into two sections.
The first stage saw firefighters conducting Home Fire Safety Checks at properties across 22,182 Merseyside and 5,147 Coventry in 2011. During visits to homes, Carbon Monoxide readings were taken with ToxiRAE monitors.
Coventry City Council health teams and housing officers along with NHS midwives also took CO readings with ToxiRAE monitors as part of the project.
Properties in socially deprived areas and other areas were randomly selected to take part in the second stage. The second part of the study, which got under way in November 2011, saw data loggers put into homes 115 Liverpool and 64 in Coventry which took Carbon Monoxide readings a number of times each day recording the levels inside the properties. This data was then collected and analysed.
All frontline fire engines in Merseyside are now equipped with ToxiRAE monitors and Coventry fire appliances also carry ToxiRAE monitors. Coventry have also been trialling the Masimo RAD-57 Pulse CO-Oximeter which measures carboxyhemoglobin (SpCO) levels nonivasively in seconds. The device measures Carbon Monoxide levels in the blood.
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Deputy Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan said:
"The findings of this study shows that high levels of Carbon Monoxide (CO) goes unnoticed in many homes across Merseyside on a daily basis. This report emphasises the importance of keeping you and your family safe by using a Carbon Monoxide alarm and making sure a Gas Safe registered engineer inspects and services your boiler - I would echo those findings. The project has and will continue to save lives in Merseyside with Firefighters, who use CO monitoring equipment as part of our Home Fire Safety Checks, able to pick up dangerous levels of CO being produced by boilers, cookers and unsafe heating appliances.
"The air quality and health of the people living in properties where high levels of CO have been identified, has dramatically improved as a result of this work. The study and subsequent report has further strengthened our view that a large number of the population are unwittingly putting their health at risk from the silent killer - Carbon Monoxide."
Funding for the project was obtained from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health.
West Midlands Fire Service Assistant Chief Fire Officer and Director of Operations Phil Loach said:
"This partnership is a ground breaking initiative gathering data and intelligence to understand the extent of Carbon Monoxide poisoning in the home. The study demonstrates clearly how Carbon Monoxide has gone undetected within our communities for years. Cooking and heating appliances, as well as gas boilers and such things as wood burning stoves in the home, can produce Carbon Monoxide to dangerous levels if not working properly. When these devices do not work properly it can also, potentially, be the cause of a serious fire. Working with partners to stop this 'silent killer' has the potential to save lives from both the effect of a fire as well as the gas itself. This has been achieved in the West Midlands by Firefighters utilising Carbon Monoxide detection equipment, supplied by partners, whilst undertaking Home Safety Checks. This initiative has demonstrated how partners can come together to deliver a value for money service as well as a better outcome for the communities we all serve."
Jean Arrowsmith, Business Manager for Health at Coventry City Council, wrote a joint bid for funding with West Midlands Fire Service for the project. She said:
"This project helps to build on an evidence base on health inequalities and how to reduce them. This research programme helps to address three of six topic areas on social determinates for health inequalities which are part of the strategy and work of the council and follow on from the work of Professor Sir Michael Marmot.
"Our staff worked with the Fire Service to help to address the health risks faced by people in the community from Carbon Monoxide emissions in the homes that were visited by our midwives, housing officers and health workers.
"It has a huge health aspect and we expect to find more evidence that people who are most likely to have high levels of CO in their homes are those who have health and social issues as well as older people in large properties who may not have the money to heat their homes safely. This CO study has shown, once again, that Carbon Monoxide can not only come from heating appliances but also from cooking and other fuels burning."
The Council of Gas Detection and Environmental Monitoring (CoGDEM) provided the Fire Services with the data loggers and supplied CO detectors for households in the study.
Case study Bill, 71, from Aigburth, in Liverpool, took part in the study and had a data logger placed in his house. He said: "We were called and told we had been randomly selected to take part in the project. The firefighters were excellent with us. They explained everything thoroughly for us and explained Carbon Monoxide poisoning. They left a data logger with us and said they would come back to pick it up. There was no problem with our appliances or Carbon Monoxide within our home. I think it is an excellent project."
Press coverage highlights:
Dr Andy Shaw was also interviewed by BBC Radio Merseyside.
Pictured (from left to right): Watch Manager Mark Jones, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, Station Manager Gary Oakford, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, Senior Health Development Officer Shashi Carter, Coventry City Council, Area Manager Myles Platt, Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service, Business Manager for Health at Coventry City Council Jean Arrowsmith, Watch Manager Adrian Hutt, West Midlands Fire & Rescue Service, LJMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Weatherill, Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, LJMU lead academic on the study Dr Andrew Shaw, Director of the School of Built Environment Professor Mike Riley, Dean of the Faculty of Technology and Environment Professor Diane Meehan, Deputy Director of the School of the Built Environment Dr Alison Cotgrave, Director of BEST Professor Ahmed Al-Shamma'a and LJMU Business Development Manager Kirsty Barr.
Further information about the study
Stage One of the study found only 9.8% of the 22,182 properties in Merseyside and 3% of the 5,147 properties in Coventry had a CO alarm installed. Out of the 84 properties where Carbon Monoxide was detected during visits to homes in Stage One, 35 were in Coventry and 49 were in Liverpool.
During the study 36 different wards across Merseyside were visited, including the four wards ranked highly deprived in the index of multiple deprivation from the Department for Communities and Local Government Indices of Deprivation 2007 (County, Everton, Kirkdale and Princess Park) and four of the highest non deprived (Childwall, Church, Mossley Hill and Woolton) in Liverpool. In Coventry the study included all seven Coventry postcodes, CV1 to CV7, including four ranked highly deprived (Lower Stoke, Henley, Longford and Binley and Willenhall) and four of the highest non-deprived (Wyken, Earlsdon, Woodlands and Wainbody).
Lascar CO data loggers were placed in the houses for a period from three days up to three weeks. In Liverpool some data loggers were placed in homes for six weeks for people aged over 65-years-old.
Out of the 109 houses in Liverpool where data loggers recorded information, all of the properties measured maximum readings of greater than zero parts per million of CO. 32 of these had maximum readings of less than 10 parts per million, 53 with readings less than 50ppm but greater than 10ppm and 24 properties with levels of greater than 50ppm.
Out of the 64 homes in Coventry where data loggers recorded information, all of the properties measured maximum readings of greater than zero parts per million of CO. 25 of these had maximum readings of less than 10 parts per million, 27 with readings less than 50ppm but greater than 10ppm and 12 properties with levels of greater than 50ppm.
The Carbon Monoxide: Silent Killer Conference event was supported by LJMU's Conference and Events Team
For further information visit the Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Research Institute webpage