Dodgy water heater kills mum in bathroom

A PUBLIC health warning should be issued about the dangers of indoor gas heaters after a mother died from carbon monoxide poisoning issued from a dodgy heater, the State Coroner recommended.

Heather Diane Pearce, 47, was found unconscious by her husband inside the bathroom at the family farm at Reedy Creek on January 13, 2018.

The inquest found the Lameroo mother died of carbon monoxide toxicity because of a 45-year-old instantaneous gas heater that should never had been installed in a bathroom.

Tests inside the bathroom with the door closed found the level of the colourless gas reached 960 parts per million in 10 seconds and 2880 ppm in four and a half minutes.

The water tank was converted into a bathroom on the Pearce’s farming property at Reedy Creek and had a faulty water heater installed.
The water tank was converted into a bathroom on the Pearce’s farming property at Reedy Creek and had a faulty water heater installed.

 

The water heater on the side of the converted bathroom.
The water heater on the side of the converted bathroom.

Humans can be exposed to 200 ppm of the odourless gas for 15 minutes at most, and the national standards declare exceeding 400 ppm could cause severe poisoning.

The inquest also heard the water heater, which looked similar to a 1961 Ascot brand heater, was non-compliant to SA regulations when it was installed in 1996 by Mr Pearce's father.

A metal plate was left on the opening of the heater, instead of a flue being connected to it, blocking the flow of exhaust gases.

The risk was exacerbated when a rotary ceiling vent was not working and the bathroom was not properly ventilated.

"The cause of death was a direct result of the use of the non-compliant water heater," State Coroner David Whittle said.

"I recommend that the Office of the Technical Regulator publish a warning to the public, as to the risk of death or serious injury presented by the use of instantaneous gas heaters which do not comply with or are not operated in accordance with technical and safety requirements."

The public warning should cover all indoor gas appliances, the coroner said, not only about gas water heaters.

The court previously heard the heater had never broken down and had never been serviced.