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Charcoal grills should not be used indoors

19/2011, 23.06.2011

BfR points out risk of carbon monoxide poisonings when burning charcoal indoors

Grilling seems to develop increasingly into a weather-independent leisure pursuit. TV commercials show grilling in apartments, retailers offer table grills and barbecue coal for indoor uses and recently a TV magazine reported about the invention of a charcoal grill for indoor and outdoor uses. This may be the reason why there have been cases in which consumers used their open charcoal grill indoors, maybe only to benefit from the residual heat of the grill as a heating source. As a result of the lack of knowledge of the risks, children and adults had repeatedly to be treated in the hospital with carbon monoxide poisonings or even died. "Whoever uses a charcoal grill indoors, is in a life-threatening situation", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). The Institute stresses that grills operated with charcoal are only suited for outdoor uses, despite any advertising claims to the contrary.

BfR and the German poison information centres have repeatedly pointed out the risk of serious poisoning when using charcoal grills indoors. In a joint study of all poison information centres in German-speaking countries and BfR, an increase in these accidents was established between 2000 and 2009. In 2009 and 2010 alone 16 severe cases of poisoning were reported to BfR, of which 13 were lethal. The BfR Committee for the Assessment of Intoxications summed up the situation at the end of 2010 as follows: The use of grills, which are operated with combustible materials such as charcoal, grill briquettes or so-called “cook chips” indoors, results in lethal concentrations of odourless combustion gases, including carbon monoxide, in ambient air.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), therefore, stresses once more that charcoal grills and barbecue coal are exclusively suited for outdoor uses - even if advertising erroneously claims that charcoal for grilling is harmless and non-toxic.

When charcoal burns, not only combustion gases but also the odourless gas, carbon monoxide, is formed. Since the grill has no chimney, the gases cannot escape when it is used indoors but reach the ambient air. Persons staying in the room then absorb carbon monoxide automatically through their normal respiration. Carbon monoxide binds much stronger to the red blood pigment haemoglobin than oxygen. Within a short period of time, the red blood pigment is, therefore, blocked for oxygen molecules and the blood can no longer transport any oxygen. As a result, there is a rapid undersupply of the tissue with oxygen. Without immediate intensive medical care severe brain damage is possible; carbon monoxide poisonings can be lethal in certain cases.

About BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. BfR engages in own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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