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HPA advice on heating oil leaks

Advice on the potential health effects in the event of a domestic heating oil leak comes under the spotlight at the agency's annual conference - Health Protection 2010 - at the University of Warwick.

About 1.2 million homes across England and Wales have oil fired heating systems, which mostly use kerosene, and each year the Health Protection Agency (HPA) receives dozens of calls from people seeking advice on the potential health effects that the leak may have on those living in the property.

HPA chemical specialists have developed an action card spelling out who to contact in such events so that health professionals have easy access to expert advice when they need it and have also posted extensive information on the topic on the HPA's website, www.hpa.org.uk.

"Members of the public and other professional organisations often contact us to ask about the potential health effects if their water tastes of fuel or if they can smell kerosene," said Henrietta Harrison, an environmental public health scientist at the HPA's Centre for Radiation, Chemicals and Environmental Hazards.

"The important thing to remember is that in the majority of cases those living in the properties will taste the fuel in the water or smell the fumes before their health is put at significant risk.

"Our advice is that everyone with a heating system run on oil should ensure that their oil tanks are properly checked and maintained. If they experience a domestic heating oil leak, it is important to make sure the right authorities are involved, for example the local authority, the Environment Agency and water company."

Often in such cases the HPA is consulted by one of the authorities or agencies involved to establish if it is safe, on health grounds, for a householder previously advised to leave to return. The HPA is also often asked if the water in the property is safe to drink.

The information on the website also explains the roles and responsibilities of the bodies involved and can help other authorities when making decisions on the need to remove people from their properties and when they can move back in.

Although such decisions are not made by the HPA, by explaining the potential risks to health and using scientific data, the document will be of use to those decision-making agencies involved, as well as helping to reassure members of the public.

 "Only a small proportion of the population use heating oil and an even smaller proportion of that population will ever find themselves in a situation where their oil is found to be leaking," said Henrietta.

"The publicly available online information will enable those people with perfectly valid concerns and questions about the impact leaking oil could have on their health to have instant access to the advice and information they need."

Notes to Editors

  • Find advice about heating oil on the HPA website 
  • The HPA provides advice to UK Government departments and agencies on human health effects from chemicals in water, soil and waste as well as information and support to the NHS and health professionals on toxicology.
  • For more information please contact the CRCE press office on 01235 822745/876/737.
  • About Health Protection 2010 The Health Protection Agency's annual conference - Health Protection 2010 - is being held at the University of Warwick from 14-15 September. The conference offers a variety of innovative presentations which will demonstrate the latest scientific research and its practical application in three key areas of health protection - preventing and reducing infectious diseases, minimising the impact of radiation, chemical and environmental hazards and preparing for potential or emerging threats to health. To find out more information visit www.healthprotectionconference.co.uk



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