- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Paramedics responding to an emergency call for an asthma attack yesterday discovered five adults and two children suffering severe carbon monoxide poisoning in a Silver Spring, Md., home.

The carbon monoxide concentration in the basement of 10207 Portland Road was 400 parts per million when authorities arrived about 10:20 a.m. The gas company later identified levels of 1,000 parts per million. Firefighters are required to wear respiratory masks whenever they detect 35 parts per million of the gas.

"This was a dangerously high level," said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Capt. John Kinsley. "These people are lucky … they called 911 as soon as they did."

Inside the house were three women, ages 23, 25 and 46; two men ages 25 and 46; and two children, 2 years old and 10 months old. Their sicknesses are not life-threatening.

All seven victims could have died had they been sleeping, Capt. Kinsley said. Instead, they were conscious when taken by ambulance for treatment at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.

Victims of carbon monoxide poisoning are placed in a hyperbaric chamber, where high pressure forces carbon monoxide out of the body and replaces it with fresh oxygen.

Tim Sargeant, a spokesman for Washington Gas, said crews found a malfunctioning boiler in the basement that provides hot water for a baseboard heating system. The gas company has turned off all service to the house until repairs are made.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced as a byproduct of combustion. Capt. Kinsley said the gas is "produced by a flame that is burning inefficiently."

Those suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning become dizzy, lightheaded and have trouble breathing because the gas hinders the blood's ability to carry oxygen to body tissues.

"We get a lot of cases where people have an attached garage, they get up in the morning, it's cold in the garage and they start their car," Capt. Kinsley said. "Well, an engine is combustion, so it's pumping out carbon monoxide."

The American Medical Association estimates about 1,500 people die and another 10,000 are injured each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Last week, officials blamed a faulty furnace in Takoma Park for carbon monoxide poisoning that hospitalized a family of four. Fire Capt. Adam Pegler said the levels in the basement of that home reached 650 parts per million.

On New Year's Day, Stanley Herman, 62, and his wife, Joan, 63, died in a natural-gas explosion that destroyed their home at 1117 Cresthaven Drive in Silver Spring.

Preliminary autopsy results showed higher-than-normal levels of carbon monoxide in the victims' blood, said Assistant Montgomery County Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci.

A carbon monoxide leak might have rendered the occupants unconscious, which could explain why they did not smell the natural gas, he said.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission suggests homeowners keep a carbon monoxide detector on every floor. Mr. Sargeant suggests homeowners have natural-gas appliances inspected by a heating-and-cooling professional at least once a year.


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