Friday, September 07, 2007

Fears over teenagers' deadly abuse of canisters

By Sarah Reedman

Parents are being warned that teenagers are risking their lives by sniffing canisters of nitrous oxide and an area of Downham has been littered with them.
The small canisters, used in the catering trade to charge whipped-cream makers, are discharged into balloons and then inhaled – a practice the medical profession has warned could kill.

It is illegal to sell the canisters to people under the age of 18 – but a large number of them have been littering the area around The Howdale in Downham.

The packaging is clearly marked as "whip cream chargers" and each packet contained 24 canisters containing eight grammes of N2O – also known as laughing gas.

A spokesman for Norfolk Police said: "A number of these canisters have been found at places where young people congregate in Downham, including The Howdale. Common sense says that it is a silly thing to be doing. We regard it as anti-social behaviour and will deal with it accordingly."

A nearby resident said she feared the discarded canisters could be a danger to younger children who may not realise what they are.

"What if they find one that hasn't been emptied and start banging it or something? These things are pressurised and could cause a nasty injury," she said.

"There are loads of them laying about, and balloons that the kids have been using to sniff the gas with – it's very unpleasant," she said.

A spokesman for Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital said the accident and emergency department had not dealt with anyone yet as a result of inhaling the gas, but warned it was only a matter of time."

Misusing any kind or compressed air or gas can be highly dangerous. Inhaling from a pressurised container could cause internal damage and inhaling any kind of gas may deprive the body of oxygen.

"There is also a risk from small pieces of the metal container breaking off under pressure and these could cause injuries similar to being hit by a pellet from a high-powered air rifle or shotgun," he said.

Inhalant abuse from the sniffing of household items has been known to cause deaths from Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome.

Anyone finding a cartridge, some of which are marked SFG, is advised to contact Norfolk police on 0845 456 4567 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.