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Migrant workers and coal stoves: “do not think of trusting to luck”

January 17, 2013

konjaku: in the previous post, one of  Wang Zelin’s major duties was making rounds to check whether or not houses and rooms were adequately ventilated during the winter months, “on winter days [he] went from house to house dredging out the ventilation lines.” “If it was a cold winter day, when everyone is lighting fires in their coal stoves, he would have long since been out on patrol, going door to door.” It also said that he helped a certain Mr Gong, “ every winter he brought him a new coal stove.” It seems that these stoves, or room heaters, are fairly simple metal drums, produced in factories when winter begins, and disposed of when the cold season is over. Wang Zelin apparently must constantly check on the users of these heaters, because they fail to fully anticipate the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

This post follows up on the problem of coal stoves. It turns out that an examination of this problem yields another perspective on the lives of migrant workers, who seem to be the principal users of inadequately ventilated coal stoves.


So far in Beijing this year there have been 8 incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning

Along with several precipitous drops in temperature, in our city there has been a succession of cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Since the season of using heating stoves began, there have been eight such accidents. Five of these cases, or 63%, involving persons who warmed themselves by burning coal, without using a heating stove [for instance, burning coal in a metal bucket or brazier]. The other three cases involved a ventilation pipe on the stove that either had a crook in it, or had become blocked up. Of those who died in these accidents, the majority were members of the floating population, amounting to 90 %. Looking at the places where the accidents occurred, none of the rooms involved had wind scoops installed to provide adequate ventilation.

The weather gets more and more cold in stages, as the frequent occurrence of strong winds cause sudden temperature drops. In this situation, using any unsafe method to warm oneself when a proper heater is not available leads to serious accidents. The city office to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning has already issued a notice, requesting more dissemination of safety information and more preventive work, to prevent further accidents.

The city office hopes that people will pay attention to the following: 1) heighten your awareness of the situation as you warm yourself and stay on guard, do not simply think of trusting to luck.

2) use a coal heater that has been made according to standards, do not use a charcoal brazier or a metal bucket, etc., for which one is unable to install some sort of chimney to funnel away the fumes. 3) daily check the flue and periodically clean out the coal ash and accumulated carbon deposits to make sure there is an unimpeded air flow.  4) use a wind scoop or other ventilation system to make sure air circulates in the room. 5) listen to weather reports on the radio. In times of rain, snow, atmospheric low pressure, dense fog or high winds, exercise especial caution, and enhance ventilation inside the room where the heater is. 6) constantly inspect the heater chimney to make it is not bent or broken. If you find it is bent out of shape or leaking, seal up the holes or, if necessary, replace it.

In the 2009-2010 winter, in our city there were 70 incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning, resulting in 87 deaths.

In the 2010-2011 winter season, fatal accidents when down to 60 incidents, resulting in 74 deaths.

In the 2011-2012 winter season, there were 26 incidents, resulting in 38 deaths.

Reporters Zhang Lei, contributor, Wang Xin

konjaku: Raising awareness of carbon monoxide poisoning in Dashengzhuang. This  photo montage is from the website of a company which produces a sensor device that can detect the presence of carbon monoxide in the air. If detected, the device automatically transmits a message to the police station, including the address in question.Bottom left is an example of burning coal in a metal bucket. (Click on photos for original size)

konjaku: examples of coal heaters found in Dashengzhuang or the vicinity. The first has had its chimney removed.


For safety, it is very important to use a wind scoop. The wind scoop should be at least 17 cm wide, 30 cm long and 35 cm high, in a trapezoidal shape.

Here is a typical case, 2007-02, two migrant workers residing temporarily in a one story house in Haidian district used a simple coal heater to warm themselves without a wind scoop for ventilation. Both of them died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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