Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) were found in homes, and lives saved, during a study carried out by Liverpool John Moores University.
The results of the study, which involved personnel from the local council and two fire services, were announced at a Carbon Monoxide Conference held recently the university.
Keynote speaker at the conference was Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, chair of an inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Gas Safety Group into the impact of CO.
Opened by LJMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Weatherill, the Conference discussed how a total of 120 homes in Liverpool and Coventry were found to have high levels of CO during the study, despite the occupiers being unaware of the threat.
Of these 120, 36 had high levels of CO, with readings of more than 50 parts per million, according to data loggers left by firefighters from Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service and West Midlands Fire and Rescue Service.
More than 27,000 properties were visited in the study in Coventry and Liverpool and, on average, 90% of the homes did not have CO alarms installed.
Dr Andrew Shaw, lead academic on the study for LJMU's Built Environment & Sustainable Technologies (BEST) Research Institute, said: "This is the first study of its kind in the UK of this size. Previous studies have looked at 500 to 600 dwellings in a targeted fashion. The study results shows that with the lack of ownership of CO alarms in the Coventry and Liverpool areas there is a significant risk of an increase in CO-related incidents occurring within homes, especially if there are more severe winters as in the one at the end of 2011.
"Although the Home Fire Safety Check (HFSC) stage of the study found 84 properties out of 27,500 had a positive CO reading, the longer-term data loggers showed that there is a significant presence of low-level CO in homes that may not trigger a CO alarm but could still potentially lead to long-term health problems.
"As the majority of properties didn’t have an alarm fitted these could potentially lead to more serious events. These are the initial findings from this study but the figures will continue to be analysed and we will be looking into the differences in the socially deprived and non deprived areas. This study is ongoing."
Accidental exposure to CO kills, on average, 50 people every year in England and Wales and around 4,000 are diagnosed with CO poisoning at A&E departments.
The study, which stems from the work on social determinates for health inequalities by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, was split into two sections. The first stage saw firefighters conducting Home Fire Safety Checks at 22,182 properties in Merseyside and 5,147 in Coventry. During visits to homes, CO readings were taken with ToxiRAE monitors.
Properties in socially deprived areas and other areas were randomly selected to take part in the second stage. The second part of the study, which got under way in November 2011, saw data loggers put into homes which took CO readings a number of times each day, recording the levels inside the properties. This data was then collected and analysed.
Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service Deputy Chief Fire Officer Phil Garrigan said: "The findings of this study shows that high levels of CO goes unnoticed in many homes across Merseyside on a daily basis. This report emphasises the importance of keeping you and your family safe by using a Carbon Monoxide alarm and making sure a Gas Safe registered engineer inspects and services your boiler - I would echo those findings. The project has and will continue to save lives in Merseyside with firefighters, who use CO monitoring equipment as part of our Home Fire Safety Checks, able to pick up dangerous levels of CO being produced by boilers, cookers and unsafe heating appliances.
"The air quality and health of the people living in properties where high levels of CO have been identified, has dramatically improved as a result of this work. The study and subsequent report has further strengthened our view that a large number of the population are unwittingly putting their health at risk from the silent killer - carbon monoxide."
Funding for the project was obtained from the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health.
Pictured (from left to right): Watch Manager Mark Jones, Merseyside Fire