Water heaters or silent killers?

Urban families are always on the lookout for a great bargain. Power bills account for a considerable percentage of the monthly household budget, and one such gadget that can cut down the same is the gas geyser. The gas geyser has a simple mechanism to heat water for bathing purposes – the LPG gas outlet is connected to an enclosed burner which heats the inlet water, giving hot water in few seconds.chinese make gas geyser

Gas Geyser, Chinese make (Pic: Divya Sharma)

It takes just 3-5 minutes to fill a big bucket with hot water. However, this simple tool can turn a killer too, as a few incidents in recent times have proved.

1. About 30 high-school students and a few teachers were participating in a four-day nature camp at Mytri, a gated community near Kengeri, during October 2008. A lady teacher, who went to take a bath in the morning, felt giddy after the bath. She vomited and rested. The same was repeated with another teacher; she experienced breathlessness and almost fainted, but came out and nearly collapsed. Everybody suspected the previous night’s food and assumed it was the culprit. At the same camp, a girl went to bathe and didn’t come out even after 45 minutes. Alarmed, some men were called in to break open the sealed ventilator and the door. They found the girl lying unconscious. Her pulse had stopped, too. A doctor at hand gave her artificial respiration until she was admitted into the ICU of a hospital on Mysore Road. The girl recovered after she was put on a ventilator.

2. About two years ago, a healthy person, aged about 65, was found dead in the bathroom where he went to take bath.

Similar episodes have been reported since the past 4-5 years, where people have experienced breathlessness and fainted in the bathroom.

 

An attractive proposition

Gas geysers are the hottest selling water heaters in Bangalore today. Power cuts and cloudy days which render solar heaters ineffective are the factors which work in their favour. The gas geyser has emerged as a cost-effective, efficient method for heating water at homes and offices over the past six years. Gas stove and geyser, used together with a T-junction, ensure hot water round-the-clock, irrespective of power failure, and prove to be an economic alternative to heating water on the LPG stove.

The USP of the geyser is that the savings in the monthly power bill could be up to 65 percent. “Sales are very good, we have sold around 3.5 lakh units since last 3-4 years. It works out to be very economic and cost effective”, says Yogesh Kumar of New Ybm Inc., a dealer of all brands of gas geysers. The initial geysers in the market were all made in China, with absolutely no safety adherences. Earlier, they were known as Chinese-geysers. But there are big brands available today like Racold, Godrej, Birla et cetra. The price range is from Rs. 3000 to Rs. 5000. Apart from the brand value, the working is the same. According to Yogesh, Bangalore is the city where highest numbers of gas geysers are sold. Perhaps it is because of the weather, which makes a hot water bath in the morning indispensable.

The inherent danger

Safety, Environment and Health Officer of an electronic component manufacturing industry, Mahesh N, says that the partial combustion in the gas geyser gives out carbon monoxide (CO), which is toxic. It is colourless and odourless, and hence, it can be a silent killer. “Within minutes of inhaling CO, the victim feels dizzy, has difficulty in breathing and is rendered unconscious,” says Mahesh.This doesn’t happen in a kitchen or during large-scale cooking because of adequate ventilation. Gas geysers placed in bathrooms could be dangerous as these places normally have little or no ventilation. Most of the China geysers are cheaper and sell more, but they don’t adhere to safety regulations, says Mahesh. “Though ISI certification is necessary, it is not enough for safety. They must display the caution in bold print on the unit. Proper ventilation is a must”, he concludes.

gas geyser

Caution notice on gas geyser: no mention of ventilation requirements (Pic: Divya Sharma)

The safest option would be to install the geyser unit outside the bathroom, with only the hot water outlet hose inside the bathroom, advises another distributor for gas-geysers of all makes. These days they come with flame-failure device, over heat protection device and an oxygen depletion sensor. “No worry at all” assures Yogesh. Since the market is growing, the dealer or installation person does not really take time to educate the consumer. “Small ventilation is all it needs” they say with confidence.

Typically, carbon monoxide suffocation/asphyxiation poisoning is quick. Most of the times, doctors find it difficult to diagnose the same. A blood test is the only sure way to confirm CO poisoning. Safety officer Mahesh says that exposure to carbon monoxide is most commonly accompanied by the following symptoms: headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue and confusion – this may affect judgement and result in fainting and vomiting.

 

Treatment for CO poisoning

1. Move the victim to an open area.
2. Remember, NO home therapy is available for CO poisoning.
3. Seek immediate medical help. Do not delay.
4. One word of caution to First Aid givers: Do not try to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It could prove dangerous.

Even as many such incidents are reported, the owners of the geysers are hesitant to approach the consumer forums or the police. Muralidharan YG of Consumer Rights Education & Awareness Trust (www.creatindia.org) informs that so far they do not have any cases concerning safety issues of the gas geyser. One reason could be to safeguard the no-bill, tax-free purchases. But it is time that we, the consumers become aware of the dangers of the gas geyser and educate ourselves and others about its proper usage.

I was a victim of CO poisoning while using the gas-geyser during May, 2007. We had been using the geyser for about three years with no problem and were unaware of its hazards. I felt dizzy and fainted and was rushed to a nearby nursing home. The doctor was unable to find the cause, though, but after a day’s rest I was back to normal. It was only much later that I heard about another similar incident and we could relate it to the geyser. We continue to use the geyser, with all possible precautions. They are:

1. Do not lock the bathroom door and then turn on the heater. It would be best to let the bucket fill with hot water, turn off the geyser switch, and only then close the door.

2. Try to keep the ventilation open.

3. Get the burner and the whole unit checked regularly for any leaks/blocks.

4. Try to have time gaps between two people taking bath. Many people taking bath one after the other increases the carbon monoxide density in the bathroom. This could be dangerous for the last person taking bath.

5. According to a study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), the gas geyser switch should ideally be at such a height that it can be switched off easily.

11 Comments

  1. Dear Sir/Madam,

    I have personally experienced the ill effects of gas geysers. my mom was admitted to hospital twice due to gas poisoning and was rendered out from serious conditions, as we were using gas water heaters.It was lately we recognized the reason behind her sudden collapse in the bath room.

    We also came to know one of my friends family too suffered thrice seriously this kind of poisoning effect arising due to igrnorant use of gas water heaters.

    Kindly i request the readers to pass on this message among their friends circle and relatives.

    Thank you.

  2. I will make sure that something is seriously done about it, as I have already mentioned in my previous post that “I do not have any more energy for crying for someone of mine dying of such silly thing so please, TAKE IT VERY SERIOUSLY”. And I am working on it. God bless all….

  3. This is Terrible! Has the government thought of any safety measures or announcements to create awareness aong users? Does anyone sell Carbon Monoxide Detectors? I think this danger should be broadly advertised, especially on TV.

  4. I am the one who is suffering, because I lost someone of mine who became a victim of this device as she was taking a bath in the bathroom in which a gas geyser was installed. She slept so silently that the only thing we were left with was frustration and dry eyes,the only individual who cried for her was her 3 months old son. Yes she was my sister, who was a doctor.

    The time she went in the bathroom she closed all the windows and started taking the bath, being unaware of everything she was doing and did not even realize that the killer(CO) will not even allow her open the door.

    ADVICE:
    1.Please use some safer and eco friendly substitutes like (Solar Geyser)
    2.VENTILATION
    3.If you think you are smart enough to use a gas geyser then please do not restrict your smartness to your self as sharing it can be a life safer.(BUT TRUST ME A PERSON CAN RARELY BE SMARTER THAN A DOCTOR.)
    4. Please do not try treat the patient or a case of Carbon Monoxide poisoning at home as the only thing that will work is a hospital.
    Please do not ignore anything like this or you will join the same race in which I am running, the race of pain.
    Its better to be safe than sorry.Moreover, I do not have any more energy for crying for someone of mine dying of such silly thing so please, TAKE IT VERY SERIOUSLY.

  5. IT was really a well educative piece for the commonman about the illeffects of the GAS GEYSERS.

    But one should know that ventilation is a PRIMARY CRITERIA, whether you use some appliance OR not. A well ventilated house does not pose any danger to any such gadgets. In everyday life we come across so many hazards, even such as electrical short circuits leading to fires, but continue using it. Gas cylinders bursting at different places and killing innocent people, but the usage is not withdrawn. So many vehicles burnt, having gas kits, but govt. is encouraging them, especially the auto’s, where innocent passengers travel.

    Instead of discouraging something, educative measures have to be taken by the literate / experienced group for the benefit of commonman by taking up such issues with the manufacturers / dealers / installers, who will explain and avoid such locations.

  6. Very nice article. A costlier preposition, but I would suggest a solar water heater to a gas geyser. My personal experience is that it seems to be expensive but it is a one time investment without having a running cost. It suits a city like ours the best and over the years it is very cost effective. The best part is that it helps save our environment.

  7. Thank you Anand. Deepa, these geysers do not have any warning printed on the unit. The dealer would reply “It is as safe as using gas in the kitchen, madam”

  8. Do these geysers carry a warning about the possible ill-effects? That should be made essential; after that, it’s “caveat emptor” (buyer beware).

  9. My cousin was a victim of these geysers.

    But there is a solution – keep th geyser outside. If you follow proper plumnbing, geyser can be switched on/off by turning the tap inside the bathroom.

    If you are keeping the geyser inside, don’t enter the bathroom till the entire bucket(s) are filled up. Keep the bathroom well ventilated.

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