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Thu, 23 Aug, 2018Basmah Qazi

The “silent killer” household appliance that ended a grandmother’s life

The “silent killer” household appliance that ended a grandmother’s life

A Melbourne woman who passed away in June 2017 due to being exposed to carbon monoxide from her open-flue heater has sparked debate about whether gas heaters should be phased out.

Sonia Sofianopoulos died in her Greensborough apartment due to a Vulcan Heritage heater leaking gas. Ms Sofianopoulos passed out on the floor of her bathroom and was discovered by her daughter and son-in-law the next day.

The gas is considered to be a silent killer as it has no odour, taste or colour and those who are exposed to the poison can experience symptoms such as a headache, weakness, nausea and dizziness.

Jacqui Hawkins who is the Victorian coroner believes that open-flue heaters should be phased out, after the investigation into Ms Sofianopoulos’s death proved just how dangerous this household item can be.

Coroner Hawkins discovered that Ms Sofianopoulos’s heater was leaking carbon monoxide and the exhaust fan was turned on. The situation was worsened when it was revealed that the dwelling was sealed, and the poison was unable to evaporate, as open-flue heaters should always be used in places with proper ventilation.

The apartment did undergo carbon monoxide testing two years prior from plumbing contractors that are hired by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

It was discovered that DHHS was servicing heaters every five years instead of the recommended two by Energy Safe Victoria.

Ms Sofianopoulos's daughters – Eleni and Stella had to wait three months before finding out the cause of their mother’s death.

Emergency services had originally told them that she had died from a heart attack. While the tragic passing of their mother has taken a toll on the two women, Eleni says she is happy with the coroner’s investigation.

“I think that certain things could have been done but that’s all now in hindsight so hopefully looking forward things will change and obviously we’ll never anything like this again,” she told the ABC.

“Overall we were happy with the recommendations the coroner made today.

“We’re just hoping that these changes become mandatory and part of legislation.”

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