Five people were found dead Tuesday in an Oxon Hill home, poisoned by carbon monoxide levels nearly 10 times higher than acceptable limits, emergency officials said Tuesday.
Prince George's County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor said a rusted exhaust pipe that had separated from a heating system was likely the cause of the gas leak at the small, brick house. The thermostat was on after a night during which temperatures dipped near freezing.
"In this case, the heating system was very old and obviously had not been maintained," Chief Bashoor said, standing a block from where dozens of emergency personnel milled around the residence Tuesday afternoon. "Any time you have combustion, it has to be ventilated outside."
The odorless, colorless gas is deadly when inhaled at high levels or for a long period of time.
The victims were identified as Oscar Chavez, 57; Sonia Leiva, 54; Nora Leiva, 57; Gomez Segovia Francisco Javier, 33; and Nelson Landaverde, 44. The older Leiva sister is from Chicago and Mr. Javier is from Fairfax. The other three people were from Oxon Hill.
With red-rimmed eyes and a wavering, quiet voice, Marvin Chavez Quinteros, the son of Oscar Chavez, told reporters how he called the home Tuesday morning to check on his father. When no one answered, he went to the house and found two people unconscious in their bedroom.
Chief Bashoor said first responders arrived with carbon monoxide readers, which is a standard practice for incidents such as the one Tuesday. They measured carbon monoxide levels at 140 parts per million at the home's front door, and as high as 560 parts per million in other parts of the house.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, carbon monoxide can be deadly if people are exposed to 50 parts per million for eight hours.
"I'm broken," Mr. Chavez said through quiet tears. "I'm broken."
Chief Bashoor said neighbors saw the victims outside their home around 5 p.m. Monday, and Yamileth Coreas, the daughter of one of the victims, said she was at the house as late as 9 p.m. and "everything was fine."
"My mom is a hard worker," Ms. Coreas said. "She came to this country to live a better life. I don't know what happened — just that some people are dead in my mom's house and I can't get inside."
The one-story house is near the intersection of Shelby Drive and Dudley Avenue, about three miles south of the Capital Beltway.
Chief Bashoor said the house is in a neighborhood where there have been four recent reports of carbon monoxide concerns, though that's not unusual for homes built after World War II.
Officials went door-to-door after the calls to raise concern about carbon monoxide poisoning. Chief Bashoor said his department would be going into the neighborhood again this week.
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