Because of the energy crisis, more and more Germans are turning to wood as fuel. Poison center experts fear that this will lead to more cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. The odorless gas is not detected by smoke detectors.

The poison control center in Erfurt expects more callers this winter because of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. In view of the high energy prices, many consumers would use alternative fuels such as wood for heating, said the head of the poison information center in Erfurt, Dagmar Prasa. “Even when storing wood pellets in the basement, carbon monoxide is emitted.”

However, there is also a risk of poisoning from improper operation of diesel-powered emergency power generators or charcoal grills for heating in closed rooms. At the end of October, the experts had had a case in which a man had to go to the hospital because of carbon monoxide poisoning. “So far that has rarely happened.”

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, tasteless and odorless gas that spreads rapidly in enclosed spaces and is undetectable by smoke detectors. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR/Berlin) had already warned of the dangers. Carbon monoxide prevents the binding of oxygen to the red blood pigment hemoglobin in the body. As a result, the blood can no longer transport the vital oxygen. The gas can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and unconsciousness and, in the worst case, death.

According to Prasa, the phones of the doctors and pharmacists in Erfurt who specialize in helping with cases of poisoning ring 60 to 120 times a day. The poison control center is still contacted most frequently because of the risk of poisoning in the home (around 86 percent of cases). According to the information, a total of almost 26,900 callers reported to the advice center by mid-December. That was 2.9 percent more than in the same period of the previous year. More than one in three cases involved children from babies to preschool age who may have been poisoned.

The information center is operated jointly by the federal states of Thuringia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania – but it also records cases in other federal states. There are seven such advice centers nationwide. The Federal Government is currently preparing to set up a national poison register for the systematic recording of cases received by the poison information centres. In the future, the data will be recorded and evaluated centrally there. The aim is to identify health hazards from products such as chemicals, household items, fungi or cosmetics at an early stage.