Families Can Suffer a Lifetime of Misery
Twenty five years ago I was the Sussex-based reporter for Television South and had the sad job of meeting Molly Maher and her family shortly after their son had been killed and their daughter, Sheree, paralysed by carbon monoxide (CO) from a gas water heater in a Tenerife holiday flat. The heater was only supposed to feed a kitchen sink but had been linked to feed the bath. Hundreds of thousands of such appliances were in Mediterranean resorts. Over the next few years I covered stories involving Molly’s efforts to stop such accidents. At first those in authority in this country and Europe failed to respond but gradually MP’s, Peers and Euro-Politicians began to take notice. - Ray Kemp
As journalist, Ray Kemp, says above, my husband Peter and I suffered a terrible tragedy in 1985 when our 26 year old son Gary was killed and our 21 year old daughter Sheree was severely damaged after being poisoned by fumes from a gas water heater which leaked deadly carbon monoxide (CO) in their Tenerife holiday apartment. Sheree was in a coma for 4 months and is still confined to a wheelchair but her strength is amazing. Sheree and my other lovely daughter Lindy, were always 100% supportive of our “gas” efforts. Investigations going back for more than 20 years revealed many similar disasters. After 5 years of campaigning for safer holidays our family were devastated when my husband Peter died in 1990. I then met Nigel Griffiths MP, then Shadow Consumer Affairs Minister, and we set up Consumer Safety International (CSI) in 1992, together with the relatives of other CO victims. Nigel’s support for over 20 years has been great. He advised CSI to be formed as a non-party charity with support across both Houses of Parliament. It included eminent safety advisors with much appreciated volunteers. CSI worked to achieve improvements by educating the public and advising victims of holiday tragedies.
In 1994 the European Commission funded CSI for a 1-year Holiday Dangers Awareness leaflet project and media gave good coverage with a press conference. Mary and Don Neal, whose daughter Katie tragically died of carbon monoxide in Majorca, were supporters of CSI. Through their efforts, in 1997 Airtours Holidays plc unconditionally sponsored us for 2 years. We used their funding for multi-issues including further promotion of a proposed EC Directive on Safe Installation and Maintenance of Gas Appliances; first submitted to the Commission in 1992. A proposed EC Directive on Fire Safety in place of Recommendations. We Commissioned Arup Fire, part of Ove Arup, to prepare a Consultation Document for an EU Hotels and Apartments Fire Safety Directive; debated in Brussels on the 23rd March 1999. Visits, Investigations and Reports into Safety Standards for Gas, Swimming pools, Balconies, Electrics, Fire Safety and Play areas. The Reports were widely distributed by my brilliant niece, Elaine.
Major British Tour Operators and others finally decided on a worldwide boycott on all holiday accommodation using individual gas water heaters, because the lack of properly trained gas operatives could not be resolved. CSI Trustees then semi-retired and sadly the lovely Mary Neal died in 2005. Every year millions of holidaymakers will be leaving home for holidays abroad. Many will return badly injured. Some will not come back at all. Things have improved but there is still a long way to go.
Update July 2013
In 2010 we were absolutely appalled to realise how many carbon monoxide deaths and injuries worldwide were consistently continuing. Even UK Directors of Industry complained that our gas regulations urgently needed to be changed. After discussion with Margaret, a great friend and a CSI Trustee, we came out of semi-retirement to encourage Gas Regulations being improved in the UK and Europe. CSI’s Constitution was amended to include Domestic and Commercial Premises. The superb Gas Specialist Harry Rogers compiled a CSI Report free of charge for Industry and Government to discuss in Westminster on 11th May 2011. We decided to again combine fuel safety efforts with others. These included European colleagues, Gas Safe Register, Corgi Technical Advisers, APPCOG (All Party Parliamentary Carbon Monoxide Group), CO-Awareness – President Lynn Griffiths and her family all long-term, low-level CO victims, Dominic Rodgers Trust – President Stacey Rodgers, mother of 10 year old Dominic who died at his home from CO emitted from a neighbour’s house, MEP Linda McAvan, Coastguards and Fire Brigade. These people and others all carry out sterling work.
CO UNAWARENESS is treacherous and CSI realised children should be informed. We suggested 22 CO Awareness Seminars with approximately 200 Science Teachers at each meeting who teach 10 to 11 year olds. Scouts, Guides and TA Representatives to also be invited and DVD’s to be given out. A 1-year CSI project only would be required. 4,500 Junior Schools in England would be covered and could be extended to the rest of the UK and other EU countries. Requests for this to be included within our School Curriculum were refused. Spanish dignitaries had explained a similar project in Spain had dramatically decreased CO deaths and injuries and children had taken home the message to parents to have regular servicing of fuel appliances (not safety checks). However, the Public Communications Unit – Department of Education, said that they wish to leave teachers to decide what children should be taught. So, during a pilot scheme at a primary school we found it disturbing to realise how little teachers knew about carbon monoxide dangers and preventative measures but this could be easily remedied with professional seminars. Numerous people have commented that the Spanish idea was brilliant, but as stated above our request for it to be included within the UK school curriculum was refused.
In 2012, in two separate incidents, two children died of CO poisoning in tents from barbeques. One victim’s parents were arrested on suspicion of murder, held in police cells in separate police stations and later released without charge. A couple from Wickford in Essex were misdiagnosed in Accident & Emergency and discharged to return home to their deaths from CO. A mother and her young daughter died from CO on a boat in Lake Windermere where it took almost 2 hours for the emergency services to arrive. Seven days later on the same lake, another CO incident occurred. These are a few dreadful examples of tragic CO accidents. A strong CSI supporter, Gas Engineer Steve Hadley, states that Long-Term Low-Level CO Exposure is of massive concern. He also says that 999 should be used to call Fire and Rescue who are equipped to deal with CO emergencies, and not phone the gas emergency number.
We used to promote CO detectors but factual evidence received from a 2011 USA report said that OVER 50% of CO detectors were faulty and it is now mandatory for CO detectors to be tested with an approved known gas in America. This is needed in Europe and elsewhere. With this knowledge it would now feel like playing Russian Roulette to further promote CO detectors when this many are faulty. When CO alarms do properly activate, the parts per million are far too high which can cause brain damage. Realistically there is no better alternative than PROPER ANNUAL SERVICING for all carbonaceous fuel appliances and to have chimneys swept. We have now also been made aware of a 2013 Hackney Council Report that indicated over 25% of alarms were found to be flawed.
So much still needs to be done; improved Gas Regulations – UK/EC, better training, CO awareness… Regrettably even with efforts from the above, these are not happening fast enough. The lethal gas – carbon monoxide – is known as the silent killer. If you can, please help to promote much better CO awareness. It could prevent a lifetime of misery.
See above example – A brief film produced by Ray and his son ’60 Seconds That Could Save a Student’s Life’.
Molly Maher, President of Consumer Safety International (CSI) – A charity committed to reducing accidents in domestic commercial and holiday accommodation, including their facilities, worldwide and provides advice and assistance to accident victims and their families.