Merseyside | Groundbreaking CO study finds dangerous levels of Carbon Monoxide in homes

A study involving Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service found dangerous levels of Carbon Monoxide (CO) in homes and helped save the lives of people in Liverpool.

In the Liverpool John Moores University study at least 120 homes in Liverpool and Coventry were found to have high levels of Carbon Monoxide, but the occupiers were unaware of the threat.

The study evolved from Stage One, where more than 22,000 properties in Merseyside were visited by firefighters with Carbon Monoxide monitors, to measuring Carbon Monoxide over a number of weeks using data loggers, while people cooked in their homes and used heating. The properties were randomly selected in the study.

On average 90% of homes did not have a Carbon Monoxide alarm.

Out of the 109 houses in Liverpool in Stage Two, where data loggers recorded information over a number of weeks, 24 properties had Carbon Monoxide levels of greater than 50 parts per million (ppm). Current Carbon Monoxide alarms sound after the level of Carbon Monoxide reaches 50 parts per million (ppm) and stays at that level for more than an hour.

A total of 53 of the houses in Liverpool had Carbon Monoxide levels of less than 50ppm but greater than 10ppm.

Dr Andrew Shaw, lead academic on the study for Liverpool John Moores University’s Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Research Institute, said: “At levels of 50 parts per million you would be having symptoms such as headaches, tiredness and drowsiness. At 50 parts per million the Carbon Monoxide (CO) is starting to suffocate you without you knowing it.

“It takes four to six hours for Carbon Monoxide to leave your system. It is very stubborn. It does not like leaving your blood.

“According to the Health Protection Agency you would be feeling the effects of Carbon Monoxide if you were exposed to CO at 10 parts per million for eight hours and 50 parts per million for 30 minutes.”

Between 400 to 600 Carbon Monoxide parts per million you could lose consciousness and vomit.

The results from the research were announced at a Carbon Monoxide conference held at Liverpool John Moores University. 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.
The study, thought to be the largest of its kind in the UK, also involved West Midlands Fire Service and Coventry City Council.

In total more than 27,000 properties in Merseyside and Coventry were visited with Carbon Monoxide monitors.

Dr Andrew Shaw 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,” he added.

The study, which stems from the work on social determinates for health inequalities by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, saw firefighters conducting Home Fire Safety Checks across 22,182 properties in Merseyside and 5,147 in 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.

The second part of the study, which got under way in November 2011, saw data loggers put into 109 homes in 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.

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.

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.

:: 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.

:: 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.

:: Gas Safe registered engineers should be contacted to check on and service your gas appliances. Contact Gas Safe Register for more information on 0800 408 5500 0800 408 5500 or visit