SAPPORO – Paloma Industries Ltd. was aware of defect in its gas water heaters in 1982, 2 1/2 years before the first death from carbon monoxide poisoning due to incomplete combustion was reported, industry sources said Friday.
The sources said the defect involved problems with the heaters’ control boxes and various solder fractures.
Paloma, which did not recall the products in question or make the defects public, circulated an in-house document that year instructing technicians on how to repair them, they said.
The first death, in 1985, was caused by what Paloma calls an improper alteration to the water heater’s safety device.
The alteration was made as a stopgap measure after the heater did not work because of the solder fracture in the control box, the sources said.
Gas suppliers in Hokkaido have said that Paloma water heaters sold well from around 1980, but many control-box problems were reported around 1982.
Paloma’s then senior quality control official testified in court sometime after 1995 that the control box must be replaced with a new one if there was a problem.
The official gave the testimony during a damages suit involving a serious carbon monoxide poisoning in Eniwa, Hokkaido, in 1995.
Last week, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said that Paloma’s water heaters caused 17 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning that killed 15 people between 1985 and 2005. The case has been evolving quickly ever since.
On Tuesday, Paloma reported an additional 10 poisonings and five deaths.
On Wednesday, the ministry urged Paloma to expedite its investigation into how its water heaters caused fatal poisonings and to take thorough preventive measures.
On Thursday, Paloma executives and their parent company, Paloma Co., apologized to the family of a university student killed by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a Paloma Industries water heater in 1996.
The apology was Paloma’s first to the family of someone who fell victim to carbon monoxide poisoning linked to its products.
Paloma Vice President Jiro Kawase and Koji Takeichi, production division head of Paloma Industries, visited the parents of Atsushi Yamane in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.
Yamane died of carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 21 in his Tokyo apartment in March 1996.
Police reopened an investigation in the poisoning cases after Yamane’s family referred last February to the case to the Metropolitan Police Department.
The Nagoya-based manufacturer and its parent company that sells its products have begun recalling and replacing them with new types of water heaters for free.
Four models — PH-81F, PH-101F, PH-102F and PH-131F — were involved in the accidents, while three more — PH-82F, PH-132F and PH-161F — are of similar designs. All were manufactured between 1980 and 1989, and some 260,000 were sold.
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