Gas cut off over water heater fear

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 1999, 12:00am

Towngas cut off 22 homes using gas water heaters yesterday in the wake of Sunday's gassing in which two people died.

In efforts to contact users of the German-made Vaillant 125/8, Towngas staff visited eight estates in North Point and Aberdeen as well as Shekkipmei, where Kan Ho-kin, 13, and Wong Shue-kwung, 26, were found dead with the gas heater on and all the windows closed.

But the 85 staff gained access to only 510 flats out of 970 visited. They intend to inspect 15,800 flats by the week's end. In addition, staff telephoned some 5,700 homes, contacting 4,300.

Fifty-seven households agreed to replace water heaters and 50 agreed to take out aluminium windows, which add to the risk when the heaters are used.

Eleven households refused to take any action, despite a 40 per cent discount on a newer model offered by Towngas.

Towngas spokesman Lee Hon-wan said the heaters were safe if used with adequate ventilation.

Tests at the Shekkipmei flat yesterday showed the heater produced a carbon monoxide level of 1,000 parts per million within one minute - 10 times the danger level.

Depending on the results of the investigation, the law could be amended to improve safety standards, said senior gas engineer John Floyd, of the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department.

The older-model heaters, which met international standards at the time of manufacture, consume available oxygen and expel poisonous carbon monoxide.

About 10 per cent of the population uses the German-made Vaillant 125/8 in their kitchens or bathrooms. They were banned from installation in 1991.

A new model has been reduced from $3,650 to $2,160, payable in 10 interest-free instalments.

But the heaters can reportedly still be purchased and installed illegally. There are shops offering to connect hot water to the bathroom by 'stealing' gas supply from the flueless water heater in the kitchen. They normally charge a $100 inspection fee before deciding if such an installation is possible.

Legislator Tsang Yok-sing asked whether Towngas had enough staff to spread its safety message.