• Kyodo


Officials of Paloma Industries Ltd. were aware of all 18 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning between 1985 and 2005 involving its water heaters shortly after each case occurred, company sources said Monday.

Of the 18 cases — 17 announced last week by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and another revealed by the sources — Paloma initially claimed it was aware of only six.

In the newly revealed case, two people died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1990 in Obihiro, Hokkaido, the sources said, bringing total deaths in the 18 carbon monoxide poisoning cases to 17.

Paloma had earlier claimed it first knew of a carbon monoxide death involving its heater in 1991, and then revised the year to 1987. Now it says it was aware from the very beginning.

The officials are believed to have neglected to report the cases to senior levels of the firm, as they thought these cases had been brought about not by defects of their products but by other causes, including illegal modification of a safety device, the sources said.

In some cases, the heaters’ safety function was nullified by bridging certain terminals on a circuit board with wires. This would enable a heater to operate without an exhaust fan turning, Paloma said.

Such a modification does not require extensive knowledge or skill, it said.

The poisonings were caused by a defect in the exhaust fans in four types of water heaters — the PH-81F, PH-101F, PH-102F and PH-131F models — made between 1980 and 1989.

In addition to the four, METI has ordered Paloma to inspect three other models — the PH-82F, PH-132F and PH-161F — similar to those involved in the poisonings, and has ordered gas companies to check them as well.

The accidents occurred when the water heaters’ exhaust fans, which take in air inside the house and expel exhaust outside, malfunctioned, according to METI.

The ministry also ordered Paloma to set up a customer service office to deal with the problem and repair the heaters, as well as submit a report on how the accidents occurred. Users of the seven types of water heaters will also be asked to check whether their exhaust fans are working properly.

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