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Anger Over Melbourne Public Housing Heater Death

The daughter of a Melbourne woman who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in her public housing unit is angry her death was caused by a government-issued gas heater.

Sonia Sofianopoulos, 62, was found dead in her Department of Housing and Human Services unit in Greensborough on July 22, 2017 and an autopsy later determined her death was caused by carbon monoxide toxicity.

Ms Sofianopoulos' eldest daughter Elenis Kontogiorgis said police and paramedics initially suspected her mother had died of a heart attack.

When Ms Kontogiorgis rang the department to tell them about the carbon monoxide poisoning, a DHHS employee told the grieving daughter that perhaps her mother had been poisoned somewhere other than the unit where her body was found.

"It was suggested to me that my mother may have attended a function the day before and may have been poisoned there before dying in her unit," Ms Kontogiorgis told the Coroners Court of Victoria on Monday.

Authorities now believe the deadly levels of carbon monoxide in Ms Sofianopoulos' bloodstream were caused by the government-issued Vulcan Heritage open flue gas heater in her unit.

"Her loss has been devastating to all of us and our life will never be the same," Ms Kontogiorgis said.

Her younger sister Stella cried in the witness box as her statement about discovering her mother's body was read to court.

Stella had gone to her mother's home after Ms Kontogiorgis became concerned because she couldn't reach their mother.

"When I found out my mother died from carbon monoxide it was a kick in the guts," Stella said in her statement. 

"It could have been prevented ... it was human error. I'm angry." 

Stella also recalled a "sweet" or "herbal" odour in her mother's unit that day, and said opening the front door felt like opening the door of an oven.

The gas heaters at Ms Sofianopoulos' block of units have since been removed and similar models have been subject to safety warnings from Victorian regulators.

But the department was unaware of the life-threatening problem until Ms Kontogiorgis contacted them in November after receiving the autopsy results.

"I told them I was concerned about the new tenant," the 40-year-old said.

"Especially due to the fact that more lives could be at risk." 

Ms Sofianopoulos' neighbour, Eileen Kelly, said she asked the DHHS to check her gas heater in September 2016 after a nurse expressed concern about Ms Kelly's carbon monoxide levels.

"She asked me had I been smoking, which I thought was a strange thing to ask, being on oxygen," the 74-year-old said.

Ms Kelly, who has been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and requires the use of an oxygen tank, also told the department she thought she smelt gas when she walked into her kitchen.


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