Gas Levels Probed In Plymouth Basements A Subdivision's Carbon Dioxide Levels Are High. Tests Hope To Find Out If A Recent Death Is Related.

Posted: September 29, 1999

PLYMOUTH — Federal, state and county health officials investigating high levels of carbon dioxide in a local subdivision will meet with Kensington Crossing homeowners tonight to discuss findings and remediation efforts.

Investigators are trying to determine whether the gas was a factor in the death of a resident there last week and the fainting spell of a young girl in a basement of one of the homes.

``We really are still in the information-gathering phase,'' said Robert Gage, director of the Montgomery County Health Department.

``Whatever we know we will let the community know,'' Gage said.

Montgomery County Coroner Halbert Fillinger could not be reached for comment on whether the neighborhood death was related, and other officials said they could not comment.

High carbon-dioxide readings were discovered late last week in the basements of two homes in the 45-lot subdivision, off North Lane and between Ridge and Butler Pikes.

Residents are being advised to ventilate their basements by opening windows and using fans to draw in fresh air.

The township also has urged residents not to let children play in their basements until carbon-dioxide levels can be checked.

Health officials said they did not know how widespread the problem was, but they said Hurricane Floyd was a possible cause of the high carbon-dioxide levels.

``One of the theories is that some of the water from the flood may have been slightly acidic, and with the carbonates in the [basements'] limestone it caused a release of carbon dioxide,'' said Jack Kelly, the Environmental Protection Agency's on-scene coordinator.

County health workers have been at the site since they were contacted by the township Friday, Gage said.

Initially, ``they said they had identified a house with a relatively low level of oxygen in the basement,'' he said.

``We went out there [and] in the sump pump there was a high level of CO2,'' Gage said.

Signs of exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide include headaches, dizziness, nausea and faintness. They generally mimic the symptoms of someone who is not getting enough air, officials said.

``The initial feeling can be almost euphoric,'' said Roy Seneca, spokesman for the EPA, which is handling the case along with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Montgomery County Health Department. ``You feel a little bit high and then you feel faint and . . . get to the point where you can't reason.''

But ``ultimately, if you're left there, you'll become unconscious and you'll die,'' Kelly said.

Normal levels of carbon dioxide can range up to 5,000 parts per million in an industrial area. A normal outdoor concentration is about 300, and the level in a home should not exceed 600 to 1,000 parts per million because of the risk to young children and elderly adults in close living quarters, Kelly said.

``In one house today we took a reading . . . and the meter right at the sump drain was 1,000 or 1,100 parts per million,'' Kelly said. ``But when you move away from the drain it goes down.''

Officials have not yet released results from their testing of the homes.

Representatives from all three agencies will be available to answer questions beginning at 7 tonight during the meeting in the Plymouth municipal building at 700 Belvoir Rd.

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