Two people were taken to Duke University Hospital on Thursday evening after high-levels of carbon monoxide were discovered at a Durham apartment complex.
Durham officials didn’t know the patients’ conditions as of 5 p.m. Friday.
A person in Buffalo, N.Y., called 911 after he was talking with a woman at the apartment complex via FaceTime and she had “some kind of panic attack seizure and ended up passing out,” according to the 911 call.
“She was kind of sobbing crying. And I asked her if I should call 911, and she said no,” the caller said. “And then she like passed out on her back.”
The Durham Fire Department responded to an unconscious person call at 10:45 p.m. Thursday at University Apartments, 1500 Duke University Road, which is near Duke’s West Campus.
Emergency responders recognized the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. They tested for the colorless, odorless gas and found high levels of it in at least two buildings, according to Chris Iannuzzi, deputy chief for the Durham Fire Department.
Common carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Flu-like,” Iannuzzi said.
The buildings were evacuated, temporally displacing about 10 people for about two hours. Investigators linked the problem to the building’s boiler, which had been turned on at 10 p.m. to provide supplemental heat to the electric units in each apartment.
The boiler was turned off, and firefighters ventilated the buildings and monitored carbon monoxide levels. People were let back in after emergency responders determined the carbon monoxide levels were safe and not increasing.
A reporter reached out to University Apartments and questions about the incident were forward to Capstone Real Estate Investments, which didn’t respond by 5 p.m. Friday.
The incident involved a low-pressure boiler that was leaking exhaust gases into the boiler room, according to Dolores Quesenberry, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Labor, which regulates commercial and other boilers in the state. The property manager at University Apartments was told that the continued operation of the boiler creates a condition of imminent danger and that the boiler cannot be operated until it is repaired and re-inspected by the state, Quesenberry said.
Low-pressure boilers are required to be inspected every two years. Records indicate the boiler was inspected in 2015 by the insurance inspector. Insurance companies complete about half of the inspections in North Carolina and are required to submit their inspection reports to the state Boiler Safety Bureau.
As temperatures start to drop, Iannuzzi recommended that people take steps to protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you are using fossil fuels – propane, natural gas, a wood fireplace, a kerosene heater, or anything that is actually burning fuel – for a source of heat, make sure you have a carbon monoxide alarm and the appliances are checked out annually.
Kerosene heaters are safe to use but require proper oxygen levels. Crack the window about an inch, Iannuzzi said.
“Especially in new homes where there are no drafts,” he said.
No carbon monoxide deaths have been reported in Durham this year, but one person died in 2015.