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Public Safety Message From The Office Of The Chief Coroner

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Public Safety Message From The Office Of The Chief Coroner

Ministry of the Solicitor General

Dr. Andrew McCallum, Chief Coroner for Ontario, today announced the findings of a death investigation that occurred in Sudbury Ontario. In early January 2009, an 84-year-old woman died suddenly in her home. The coroner's investigation determined that she succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning. The source of the carbon monoxide was determined to be the fuel-burning boiler system. Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas produced by the incomplete burning of any fuel that can cause death even at low concentrations. The boiler, much like most fuel-burning appliances, was passively vented; meaning that it drew air from inside the house, and discharged exhaust fumes up a chimney to the outside.

It's important to ensure that fuel-burning appliances have adequate air supply and exhaust directly to the outdoors.

With the assistance of the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), it was confirmed that there were no mechanical defects evident in the boiler system, and that it was originally installed and vented according to code and operating specifications. Despite this, the airflow reversed, causing carbon monoxide fumes to enter the home, resulting in the death. Most fuel-burning furnaces, boilers and hot water heaters consume large quantities of air from inside the house, and exhaust it to the outside. The house must therefore be adequately vented so that this air can be replaced, otherwise chimney flow may reverse and fumes may enter the home. Any renovations to a home, which makes it more airtight, such as new doors or windows, may require the addition of venting to ensure adequate airflow to the furnace, boiler, or hot water heater.

Based upon this investigation, Dr. McCallum recommends:

  • Carbon monoxide alarms be installed on every level of the home or alternatively, placed in and around sleeping areas.
  • The public have their fuel-burning appliances inspected regularly to ensure they are in safe and proper working order.

"While many Ontarians are upgrading their older homes to make them more energy efficient, everyone needs to know that well-maintained, regularly inspected and clean fuel-burning appliances are not only safer, but are more energy efficient as well," said Dr. McCallum.

It is imperative that all Ontarians familiarize themselves with the safety requirements of their home heating systems and arrange to have them inspected by qualified contractors. The health and safety of our families depends on it."

"To protect against fire and deadly carbon monoxide poisoning, Ontarians should have all fuel-burning furnaces, boilers, and hot water heaters examined annually by a qualified service contractor," said Ontario Fire Marshal Pat Burke. "In addition, chimneys, flues and flue pipes should also be inspected annually. These inspections will ensure that families are protected and that heating systems are working in accordance to manufacturers' instructions."

For more information on regulatory requirements for heating systems, the dangers of carbon monoxide and to locate a qualified heating contractor, please contact: Technical Standards and Safety Authority, 1-877-682-8772 or 416-734-3300, www.safetyinfo.ca or www.tssa.org.

The Office of the Chief Coroner has informed the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure of the findings of the investigation.

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