Health Protection Agency issues Carbon Monoxide Advice

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Health Protection Agency alerted people returning to their homes in flood-hit areas to the dangers of using indoors portable generators, camping stoves or other gasoline, propane or natural gas devices that are meant for outdoor use.

Professor Virginia Murray , from the HPA's Chemical Hazards and Poisons Division (CHaPD) said: 'Use of these devices inside the home can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning which can be fatal, which evidence suggests is the biggest single acute chemical risk to people in flood-hit areas.

'If people are in a position where they have to use such devices to boil water, I would strongly recommend that they do so out-of-doors. In circumstances where people feel that they really have no alternative but to use gas appliances inside the home to boil water, then I would suggest that the devices should only be used for as short a time as possible in well ventilated rooms with windows open.

'These appliances should never be used to heat or dry out rooms.'

Professor Murray said that anyone who experiences dizziness, headaches or disorientation whilst using any form of outdoor gas appliance or generator should switch it off immediately, go outside and seek medical advice.

'Even using normal gas-fired central heating and domestic gas fires to heat or dry out homes that have been affected by flood-water is not without its risks,' said Professor Murray.

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'It is natural that people returning home to damp-affected houses will be tempted to leave the central heating running continually to dry out and heat the premises, but before doing so it is essential to check that flues are not blocked. Otherwise even normal central heating may produce carbon monoxide. Flues should preferably be checked by a CORGI registered engineer.'

The Agency also warned that flood waters may have soaked into chemical containers, solvents and other industrial items or moved them from their normal storage space. However the risk of chemical exposure is likely to be limited because it will be diluted by the sheer volume of flood water, though it is strongly advised that great care should be taken before entering areas such as garages and cellars where hazardous fumes may have built up.

'The advice with garages and cellars is to ensure that they have been adequately ventilated before entering and that children should not go into these areas,' said Professor Murray.

There is no evidence from previous floods, such as Carlisle and Lewes, that bugs in the water caused an increase in gastro-intestinal illness and enhanced surveillance by the Health Protection Agency has not detected increased reports of infection in areas that are currently affect flooding either.

There is no risk from more serious infections such as typhoid and cholera in the flood water because these diseases are not present in the general population in the United Kingdom .

However there is no room for complacency and people in flood-affected areas should be careful to protect themselves against infection and chemical exposure. The Agency has published comprehensive advice for people cleaning up after flooding. It includes:

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