Carbon dioxide leak that left family in hospital started by ‘faulty cooker’

A potentially deadly carbon monoxide leak that left an Elm Park family in hospital started after a faulty cooker was reconnected, it is believed.

Pauline Smith with the carbon monoxide indicator that saved her and her neighbours' lives
Pauline Smith with the carbon monoxide indicator that saved her and her neighbours’ lives

And their lives may have been saved by a neighbour’s wall-mounted detector and quick thinking.

Three Mungo Park Road residents – a man, a woman in her 20s and a baby believed to be about 15 months old – were taken to Whipps Cross Hospital, Leytonstone, at about 2.45am on Tuesday.

Contractors were today inspecting the cooker and checking carbon monoxide levels in the flat, which were dangerously high but dropping.

One contractor said he had previously disconnected the cooker last year as it was deemed unsafe – but that the tenants had apparently started using it again the night of the leak.

NHS Choices information on carbon monoxide poisoning


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that has no smell or taste. Breathing it in can make you unwell and it can kill.

More than 50 people die in Britain each year from accidental CO poisoning every year, and a further 200 are left seriously ill.

Symptoms of CO poisoning can include a headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tiredness and confusion, stomach pain, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

Carbon monoxide has no smell, taste or colour and is sometimes known as the “silent killer”.

A working CO alarm, like Pauline’s, can detect a CO leak in your home and give out a high-pitched noise when levels of the gas are high.

But alarms are not a substitute for maintaining and regularly servicing household appliances. CO leaks are often caused by faulty or badly installed household appliances are the most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. You should ensure cookers, boilers and heaters are regularly serviced and kept in good working order.

Babies are among those most vulnerable to CO poisoning.

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A baking tray filled with cooked, uneaten food remained on the side as the contractors worked.

Upstairs neighbour Pauline Smith, 75, said her carbon monoxide detector had started going off late on Monday night.

“It hadn’t gone off since before Christmas,” she told the Recorder. “I thought: ‘My window’s open and the alarm’s still going off, so I’d better call the National Grid.’”

A workman came and checked Pauline’s house but found no fault with her cooker or boiler.

“I told him it must be coming from downstairs because gas rises,” she said.

“He banged on the door but couldn’t get an answer. I told him to keep trying because there was a baby in there.

“Next thing I knew, the fire brigade, police and ambulance were outside.”

Firefighters attempted to rouse neighbours, but were only able to get people out of two flats – Pauline’s and one other.

“One of the firemen said: ‘I hate to intrude, but I’ve got to check your room for carbon monoxide,’” she said.

“If I’d gone to bed I would never have got up. When he checked the bedroom, he found the bulk of the gas was in there – I’d forgotten to open the window after having it cleaned.

“He tested my blood and it had 10 per cent carbon monoxide in it. They gave me oxygen in the ambulance.”

She added she was grateful to the fire and ambulance services for their part in the rescue.

“Those people are absolutely fabulous,” she said. “Nothing is too much for them.

“The National Grid man said to me: ‘Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve just saved three people’s lives.’

“I go to bed with my hearing aid in because I’m frightened of not hearing the alarm. They’ve been out four times to check my boiler and cooker and there’s never been a problem with them.

“I thought it had to be downstairs.”