The Annals of occupational hygiene

Lethal carbon monoxide poisoning in wood pellet storerooms--two cases and a review of the literature.

PMID 22879445


The installation of wood pellet heating as a cost-effective and climatically neutral source of energy for private households has increased steadily in recent years. We report two deaths that occurred within the space of about a year in wood pellet storerooms of private households in German-speaking countries and were investigated by forensic medical teams. This is the first report of fatalities in this special context as is shown in the literature review. Both victims died of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning; one of the victims was a woman who was 4 months pregnant. Measurements at the scene detected life-threatening CO concentrations (7500 ppm, >500 ppm), which were not significantly reduced after ventilation of the storerooms as required by regulations. We carried out a series of experiments in order to confirm CO production by wood pellets. Thirty kilograms of freshly produced pellets from two different manufacturers were stored for 16 days in airtight containers at 26°C with different relative humidities. CO concentrations between 3100 and 4700 ppm were measured in all containers. There were no notable differences between the wood pellet products or storage at different humidities. Emission of CO from wood pellets has already been described, but fatal accidents have previously been reported only in association with pellet transport on cargo ships or storage in silos. It is therefore a new finding that fatal accidents may also occur in the wood pellet storerooms of private households. We show that significant CO concentrations can build up even when these rooms are ventilated in accordance with the regulations and that such levels may cause the death of healthy persons, as described in the following. As the safety recommendations from the wood pellet industry are inadequate, we consider that further fatal accidents are likely to occur and recommend urgent revision of the safety regulations.