Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Carbon monoxide poisoning sends four Suitland residents to hospital

Almost 100 evacuated after apartment boiler malfunctions

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Nearly 100 residents were evacuated from a three-story apartment building after high levels of carbon monoxide were detected around 11:30 a.m. Sunday at 3830 Regency Parkway in Suitland

Prince George’s County firefighters and EMS responded to three sick residents who had observed a strange odor and thick black residue coming from the vents of their apartment. The residents complained of headache, nausea and vomiting and were taken to an area hospital, according to Mark Brady, spokesperson for the Prince George’s County Fire Department.

Firefighters measured elevated levels of carbon monoxide in five buildings and evacuated each of them. Dozens of residents were treated on the scene and four were transported to the hospital. All patients were in fair condition when transported with non-life threatening exposure to the gas.

Carbon monoxide readings started to decrease when the natural gas boiler that services all five of the apartment buildings was shut down. Officials from Washington Gas Company were on the scene assisting firefighters and hazardous material crews in resolving the situation. It is not clear what caused the malfunction with the boiler, Brady said.

Normal conditions would register carbon monoxide levels anywhere from 0 to 30 parts per million. A level as high as 150 PPM was found throughout these five apartment buildings, Brady said. After shutting down the boiler, firefighters ventilated the buildings and most residents were allowed to return to their units by about 1:30 p.m. Heat was turned off until the boiler could be repaired.

Carbon monoxide typically is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that requires monitoring equipment or a carbon monoxide alarm to detect.

To help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, Brady said, one battery-powered alarm should be installed on each level of a home and near sleeping areas. Be sure the alarms are more than five feet from fuel-burning appliances to prevent false alarms.

Other preventative measures include being sure that fuel-burning appliances are properly installed and working according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not burn charcoal inside a house, even in the fireplace. Keep chimneys clear of animal nests, leaves and residue to ensure proper venting. Also, do not block or seal exhaust flues or ducts for appliances such as water heaters, ranges and clothes dryers.

E-mail Ryan McDermott at rmcdermott@gazette.net.