7 in Middle River hospitalized for carbon monoxide exposure

Woman’s decision to run portable generator in basement apparently affects neighbors

  • Howard Faulkner reflects on Friday morning's events after returning to his home from Franklin Square Hospital. He was one of seven Middle River residents hospitalized for exposure to carbon monoxide. A portable generator in the home of Faulkner's neighbor was being investigated as the possible cause for the buildup of odorless, colorless gas.
Howard Faulkner reflects on Friday morning's events… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
April 30, 2010|By Brent Jones, The Baltimore Sun

Had his next-door neighbor asked, Charleston Graves said, he gladly would have extended a cord and allowed her to use some of his electricity for a night.

But she didn't. And Graves, his neighbor, her four children and another neighbor in Middle River ended up being rushed to area hospitals Friday morning, suffering from carbon monoxide exposure, the latest in a string of incidents involving the poisonous gas in Baltimore County.

Graves said the woman had the power turned off in her home this week in anticipation of a weekend move. County fire officials said the woman had been using a portable generator in her basement, and that she shut it off and ventilated the home about 3 a.m. when she and her children began to feel ill.

About three hours later, emergency crews were called to the 2200 block of Southorn Road, where they found the woman and her children sitting on their porch. The family members were conscious but showing symptoms consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning, authorities said.

Firefighters alerted the next-door neighbors, and emergency crews took Graves and Howard Faulkner, who lives on the other side of the woman, to Franklin Square Hospital Center after dangerous levels of carbon monoxide were detected in their homes. The woman and her children were taken to the University of Maryland Medical Center, where they were treated in a hyperbaric chamber for what were believed to be injuries that were not life-threatening.

Graves and Faulkner were released from the hospital within two hours. Standing outside his home, Graves said the situation could have been avoided.

"What she did is like putting a running lawn mower in your living room," said Graves, 45. He added that the woman has rented the home since June. "If I would have known she needed electricity that bad, I would have run a cord from my house."

Fire officials have not identified the woman, and both neighbors said they were unsure of her name.

Graves said he was awake and fighting off symptoms of a cold when firefighters knocked on his door and ordered him out. The readings in Graves' home were on the low end of what is considered toxic — about 50 parts per million — and he spent about an hour hooked up to an oxygen machine at the hospital.

"That's the scary thing about carbon monoxide — there aren't any signs," Graves said.

Faulkner has lived in the neighborhood — a collection of two-story brick rowhouses — for more than 40 years. This is the only carbon monoxide scare he can recall.

At 73, Faulkner said his hearing isn't as good as it once was, so he didn't realize firefighters were banging on his door. He got up only after firefighters kicked the door in.

"I owe my life to the Fire Department," Faulkner said. "And she's going to owe me a door."

Calls for carbon monoxide have become more frequent over the past five years in the county. The odorless, colorless gas inhibits the body's ability to absorb oxygen and is responsible for hundreds of deaths nationally every year.

In December, the County Council unanimously enacted legislation that requires rental property owners to install carbon monoxide alarms in all units heated by fuel-burning equipment, as well as dwellings attached to an enclosed parking area.

Earlier that month, four people, including a baby, were taken to hospitals from a Fullerton apartment complex because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters also found potentially lethal levels in a Middle River rental home in another incident the previous weekend.

Since 2005, dozens of residents at an Essex townhouse complex have been treated for exposure. Three people died at the Cove Village complex of carbon monoxide poisoning that year, and eight residents were hospitalized for exposure to the gas last summer.

The county Fire Department fielded more than 1,300 calls for carbon monoxide in 2008.

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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