‘Colonic fumigation’ treatment could have killed beauty spa’s customers

Published: 4 December 2015

Environmental health officers have issued an urgent warning to businesses and residents to raise awareness of the dangers posed by carbon monoxide poisoning after two recent incidents in the borough could have ended in tragedy.

A group of eastern European builders who speak hardly any English nearly gassed themselves and the people in the flat above them while working indoors with a petrol-powered disc cutter. 

And in another serious incident a woman running an African hair and beauty business in Battersea was risking her life, plus those of her customers and also her upstairs neighbours by burning charcoal indoors as part of a spa treatment.

In both episodes extremely high levels of carbon monoxide (CO) were being produced and without swift intervention from the borough’s environmental health team those involved could have died.

Carbon Monoxide is a lethal, odourless and colourless gas that is virtually impossible to detect without specialist equipment. It is lighter than air and can therefore easily pass into properties above.

The gas can also be produced from faulty central heating boilers and these two incidents have sparked new warnings about the dangers of this “invisible killer” gas and the message that residents and business should consider purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm. These are reasonably cheap to buy and can save people’s lives.

It was an alarm in an upstairs flat that averted the first tragedy. Because they couldn’t speak English, the builders had not understood the very clear warnings written on the side of the power tool that it should not be used indoors. 

Gas readings showed they had been working in conditions where CO levels were five times higher than recognised safety levels – and nearly twice the levels at which buildings must be evacuated. 

In the second case charcoal was being burned in a metal container attached to the underneath of a custom made throne-like chair and was being used to offer customers of the health and beauty spa a kind of “colonic fumigation” sometimes referred to as ‘tush’ or ‘dhilka’.

The alarm in this case was raised when neighbours living above the shop contacted the gas board because they could smell burning and were worried about a possible gas leak. Instead the National Grid’s emergency inspector detected high levels of CO in the vicinity.

When council staff tested the air in the downstairs salon they found CO levels five times higher than the safe limit.

The proprietor also said she had been suffering severe headaches and sickness for some time and had been taking painkillers. Both she and the residents living above her were advised to go to the nearest casualty department immediately to get their blood oxygen levels checked.

Wandsworth’s community safety spokesman Cllr Jonathan Cook said: “Luckily these two serious incidents didn’t result in tragedy but it was a close call. Carbon monoxide is a silent and invisible killer and the only certain way to be sure you are not at risk of poisoning it is to get an alarm.”