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Indoor grilling with charcoal is very dangerous!

18/2009, 17.07.2009

BfR warns about risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

In conjunction with the mandatory notification of poisonings, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has been informed of eight fatal cases of poisoning involving carbon monoxide. In all cases charcoal grills had been used incorrectly indoors, probably for heating purposes. “It seems that some people are not aware of just how dangerous open hearths are indoors,” said BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. “Charcoal grills are intended for relaxed evenings outdoors. They are not at all suitable for grilling food or heating indoors. Even the indoor use of residual heat after grilling can lead to life-threatening poisoning.” 

 Carbon monoxide is formed from the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing material. Inadequate air circulation indoors increases the concentration of the toxic gas. Open windows or doors do not offer sufficient protection. As the combustion gases from charcoal grills are not directly removed via fireplace systems when used indoors, there is a risk of severe poisoning because the gas can spread unnoticed around the room. Carbon monoxide is odourless, colourless and non-irritating. Hence, it does not give people any warning. The gas is lighter than air and can readily accumulate in the environs by displacing oxygen. It is quickly absorbed by the lungs without the affected person noticing. 

Carbon monoxide is a blood toxin that displaces oxygen from the binding site to the red blood pigment, haemoglobin. Children react far more sensitively to carbon monoxide than adults and are quicker to present intoxication symptoms. In the case of minor intoxications, the patients suffer from headaches, dizziness, ringing in the ears, impaired vision, vomiting, dyspnoea, muscle weakness and heart palpitations. In the case of moderate to severe intoxications, the sufferers normally present a cherry red skin colour that masks the real state of health. Particularly when alcohol has been consumed, the situation is often misconstrued. There is, however, a mortal danger and the sufferers should be given oxygen or artificial respiration as quickly as possible by an emergency doctor.

In 2008 BfR was informed in the medical notifications of minor and fairly serious cases of carbon monoxide poisonings. The fatalities notified in recent weeks do, however, show that the incorrect, indoor use of a charcoal grill may possibly mask another, unidentified hazard. The use of residual heat from the extinguished charcoal grill indoors can lead to life-threatening poisoning, too.

For some years now carbon-fired table grills have been available which are also advertised for use indoors. They create the impression that open hearths indoors without a direct flue are not dangerous. Advertisements that show grill parties in people’s living rooms can also play down the risks. BfR research seems to indicate that, in some cases, the people concerned were inspired by the TV spots to move their own grill parties indoors and use the residual heat of the grill to keep warm.

BfR expressly points out that charcoal grills must not be used indoors because of the major risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. This also applies when doors and windows are open because there is not sufficient ventilation. 


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