'Virtually instantaneous': The cause of woman's death following shower revealed

A South Australian woman died from carbon monoxide poisoning, the lethal gas given off by a dodgy water heater installed in a bathroom, an inquest has heard.

Deputy coroner David Whittle has begun an inquiry into the death of Heather Diane Pearce at her family's farming property at Reedy Creek, southeast of Adelaide, in January last year.

Mrs Pearce had gone to the property with her husband and two sons to start shearing sheep.

The 47-year-old was found unconscious on the floor of a makeshift and freestanding bathroom, fashioned from a converted concrete tank, after taking a shower.

It was first thought she had medical issues but an autopsy confirmed the cause of death.

The non compliant heater can be seen with a charred black wall above it.
A photo showing the faulty water heater that caused the death of Heather Diane Pearce at her family's farming property at Reedy Creek, southeast of Adelaide, in January last year. Source: Supplied by SA Coroner Court

Water heater became a carbon monoxide generator

Tests on the water heater subsequently found it was not compliant with regulations and should never have been installed in the bathroom, counsel assisting Ahura Kalali told the inquest on Wednesday.

It was so old the brand and model were no longer manufactured.

Mr Kalali said a metal plate had also been placed on top of the heater, blocking exhaust gases and a rotary ventilator installed in the bathroom roof had seized and would not spin.

Senior gas inspector Ron Jessen told the coroner that because of the metal plate, the build-up of combustion gases would have been "virtually instantaneous".

He said a 10-second test he performed on the water heater returned a carbon monoxide reading of 960 parts per million.

A normal reading would be between 40 and 150 parts per million.

Mr Jessen said a second test had to be stopped because it was exceeding the levels his instruments could take.

"It certainly showed in a very short time this heater was becoming a CO (carbon monoxide) generator," he said.

"It should have been isolated and tagged off as too dangerous to operate."

Mr Kalali urged Mr Whittle to find that the build-up of carbon monoxide was the cause of Mrs Pearce's death.

He also asked the deputy coroner to issue a public warning about the dangers of improperly installed or non-compliant water heaters, which he said posed a "very real danger".

Mr Whittle will hand down his findings on a date to be fixed.

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