20 carbon monoxide/gas leaks in over 18 months at Portsmouth complex

Posted at 7:32 PM, Jul 30, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-31 06:15:01-04

Portsmouth, Va. - 59 Merrimac Drive was red tagged five times by the fire department, and 98 Swanson Parkway was red tagged three times--all for carbon monoxide and gas leaks coming from faulty appliances.

In all, fire crews responded to 12 CO and gas leaks at Swanson Homes over the past 18 months.


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Rarely were those red tags reported in maintenance records kept by the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority, or PRHA.

PRHA officials still have yet to explain the discrepancy to NewsChannel 3.

What we did find in their records--that their workers responded to eight more incidents at Swanson Homes where the fire department was never called.

Four confirmed gas leaks in August, September and October of last year and four carbon monoxide leaks this year alone, all yielding high readings, and all near the water heaters in each unit.

One of them, at 60 Swanson Parkway, was discovered on June 11th. The readings taken that day by PRHA workers showed 1,400 parts per million of carbon monoxide in the air, which is double the dose considered to be fatal.

Thankfully, the people living in the apartment weren't hurt. But ten days later just down the street in the same complex, Leroy and Inez Stith were found dead, victims of the same deadly gas.

PRHA officials say the Stiths had just gotten new carbon monoxide detectors put in the month before, and they never went off alerting anybody to potential deadly levels.

But when NewsChannel 3 searched the maintenance records, a pattern emerges of alarms continuously being replaced by workers.

In one unit, defective carbon monoxide detectors were changed out three times in just one month, and in another, roach eggs and bugs were found inside the detectors on two different occasions, which caused the malfunctions.

When it comes to the Stiths' case, the Fire Marshal is still trying to find out why the detectors didn't alert the couple to the high levels of deadly gas inside their home.

PRHA sent NewsChannel 3 this statement:

“The authority inspects all units on a regular basis and tests detectors regularly. We have had incidents of residents tampering and/or disabling the detectors, but detectors are fixed or replaced immediately, as needed. We respond to every resident concern or complaint and exterminators treat every unit every month.”

They still have not explained why their records don’t match those from the fire department.