News State Victoria News Phase out open flue heaters, Victorian coroner says
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Phase out open flue heaters, Victorian coroner says

Open flue heaters are a health hazard, a Victorian coroner says. Photo: ABC
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A Victorian coroner wants open flue gas heaters to be phased out after the carbon monoxide poisoning death of a woman in her Melbourne public housing unit.

Sonia Sofianopoulos, 62, was found dead in her Department of Housing and Human Services unit at Greensborough in July 2017, from carbon monoxide toxicity caused by a Vulcan Heritage open flue gas heater, Coroner Jacqui Hawkins said on Wednesday.

She called for the Australian Gas Association and Energy Safe Victoria to come up with a plan to phase them out.

“Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. It is a poisonous, highly flammable gas that is lethal if absorbed by the blood in large amounts,” Ms Hawkins said.

She made no negative findings against DHHS or a contractor who carried out non-compliant carbon monoxide tests on the decades-old heater two years before Ms Sofianopoulos died.

However, this was not linked to the woman’s death, the coroner said.

Family members found her body with the Vulcan on high on July 22 last year.

They described the heat inside the unit “intense” and found it hard to breathe, the coroner said.

Ms Sofianopoulos had begun to feel unwell a month beforehand but this was not followed up with any tests.

The coroner found her death was caused by a confluence of events, including the unit’s poor natural ventilation.

Ms Hawkins recommended the manufacturer of the Vulcan or Pyrox Heritage gas heater publish an article in major Melbourne newspapers about the need to service the heaters regularly.

She also called for a more general public information campaign about the dangers associated with open flue gas heaters.

In a statement, plumbing industry association Master Plumbers supported the coroner’s findings.

“Lessons learnt from this inquest clearly demonstrate that more needs to be done by regulators and the plumbing industry to avoid a repeat of this tragedy,” chief executive Peter Daly.

Earlier this year, DHHS sent letters to more than 6500 public housing tenants with a Vulcan or Pyrox open flue gas heater, saying the heaters would be inspected and should not be used.

The heaters were removed from Ms Sofianopoulos’ unit block after she died.