Japanese Manufacturer Investigating Carbon Monoxide Deaths

Three deaths linked to water heaters.

TOKYO (AP) - Rinnai Corp., Japan's largest manufacturer of gas appliances, said Saturday it has begun providing free inspections of its water heaters nationwide following a series of carbon monoxide poisoning linked to three deaths and 12 other injuries, officials said.

The three deaths occurred since October 2003 including the most recent case this week in Kanagawa, just south of Tokyo, and the twelve others have been injured between January 2000 and December 2004, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a press release issued late Friday.

Rinnai has set up a toll-free number for customers to receive free inspections of three models of water heaters, company official Katsushi Ozawa said Saturday. The models are sold only in Japan.

The company was investigating the cause of the poisonings following an order by the ministry, Rinnai said in a statement.

There are about 1.15 million water heaters of the three models which caused CO poisonings, including one sold by Tokyo Gas Co., and they were produced between 1991 and 1997, according to the ministry release.

Kyodo News agency reported Saturday that two other people died in 11 cases of CO poisoning since 2000 caused by water heaters built by other companies, citing the trade ministry.

The ministry did not disclose the names of the companies, Kyodo said.

Ministry officials were not available Saturday.

Last year, the government announced that Paloma Ltd.'s water heaters were linked to 28 carbon monoxide poisoning cases reported in Japan between 1985 and 2005 that resulted in 21 deaths.

The government issued an emergency order directing Paloma to recall some water heater models in August after finding some safety devices fitted on the products were prone to breaking.