Dubai Police warns against ‘silent killer’ carbon monoxide poisoning after deaths

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Dubai Police have issued a warning of the ‘silent killer’ carbon monoxide poisoning amid the recent cold snap which has led to families turning to portable heaters to keep warm, increasing the risk of toxic fumes building up in homes.

Dubai Police said that two domestic helpers died recently from inhaling carbon monoxide after leaving charcoal burning overnight to heat their room.

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Carbon monoxide (CO) can be produced by burning fuel in appliances such as stoves, ovens, fireplaces, and heating systems – and can lead to residents inhaling potentially deadly fumes.

Butti Ahmed bin Darwish al-Falasi, director of the Security Awareness Department in the General Department of Community Happiness at Dubai Police, explained that carbon monoxide (CO) exposures and poisonings occur more often during summer and winter seasons due to the lack of awareness and wrong practices of some individuals.

“Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs in winter as people are more likely to use gas furnaces and heating appliances seeking warmth in closed places or structures with minimal airflow. Carbon monoxide is odorless, so it goes undetected by humans and silently kills them.”

He added: “In summer, the most common way of getting carbon monoxide poisoning is when the AC of an automobile is on while it’s idle in a closed garage or space without proper ventilation.”

“During the energy-making process, the vehicle pulls in the air mixed with CO through the AC vents. Then, the automobile’s occupants accidentally inhale carbon monoxide and become weak due to lack of oxygen in their bodies, eventually dying.”

Awareness is key

Al-Falasi reaffirmed the keenness of Dubai Police to raise awareness and education every year through ‘The Silent Killer’ campaign on CO poisoning and related safety measures, such as ensuring proper ventilation of closed places and using locally certified cooling/heating appliances.

“We strongly advise installing toxic gases detectors and never using equipment that may cause fires in closed places such as essence or coal burners, and not stay in an idle vehicle in a garage or other enclosed structure for a long period,” he said.

He said Dubai Police’s annual campaign has targeted labor accommodations in three areas: Jebel Ali, Al Qouz, and Al Qusais, which saw more than 2000 awareness bags distributed among laborers, containing winter supplies and awareness brochures in English and Urdu.

The silent killer

Ibtisam Abd Al Rahman al-Abdouli, poisons senior expert and director of the specialized forensic evidence department at the General Department of Forensic Science and Criminology at Dubai Police, said carbon monoxide (CO) is a ‘silent killer’ because it is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, and can be accidentally inhaled without it realizing.

“Some people may experience minor symptoms such as headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting… but when the CO level in the body is high, it could lead to loss of consciousness and eventually death,” she explained.

Al-Abdouli explained that CO is a toxic gas produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels, such as gasoline, natural gas, oil, coal, and wood.

“When a fire burns in enclosed places, including wood caravan houses and road trip vans, the oxygen is gradually replaced with carbon monoxide. This leads to serious tissue and cell damage and even death. “Carbon monoxide poisoning is behind many deaths worldwide due to lack of awareness and wrong practices,” she added.

Although carbon monoxide is commonly found in the blood, it is usually at very low levels. When carbon monoxide blood readings hit 25 per cent, patients usually lose consciousness and suffer organ damage.

“If someone is suspected of having CO poisoning, the first aid steps are to get them into fresh air immediately and call for emergency medical assistance,” al-Abdouli said.

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