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Families living in Pope neighborhood are safe from carbon monoxide, Fort Bragg officials say

By MICHAEL FUTCH | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 16, 2019

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Military families who live in the same on-post housing in the Pope Army Airfield neighborhood where two families experienced elevated levels of carbon monoxide earlier in the month are safe, according to Fort Bragg officials.

Tom McCollum, a spokesman for Fort Bragg, met Thursday with members of the media in an unoccupied home off Galaxy Street in the same Pope neighborhood with a similar layout to the houses with the elevated carbon monoxide levels. There, McCollum said the cause of the troubling levels was heating ventilation and air conditioner (HVAC) units having been installed in laundry rooms where the hot water heater, washer and dryer also are located, and accessed by a door.

This follows earlier news releases from post officials who said the two families living in the Pope neighborhood had addressed concerns about high levels of carbon monoxide in their living quarters.

One of the Fort Bragg families went to the installation's medical center on Aug. 4 to be treated as a precautionary measure "with symptoms that corresponded with carbon monoxide poisoning," a release said. This came after the home's carbon monoxide detector had been triggered.

The family was checked out and released from care the same day, officials said.

Three days later, on Aug. 7, another family in the same Pope housing area filled out an online report through the Interactive Customer Evaluation system to let officials know it had noticed a strange petroleum odor in the home, officials said.

Both families worked with housing officials from Fort Bragg's Directorate of Emergency Services, Directorate of Public Works and housing contractor Corvias to determine the cause of the potential health threat, the releases said.

Fort Bragg has not identified the families.

McCollum said he didn't know the identities of the families.

McCollum and three other post representatives did not want media members to approach residents Thursday in the surrounding neighborhood about any possible concerns.

The number of homes in the Pope neighborhood with similar solid laundry room doors is 88, according to McCollum. That cluster of housing was built in the 1970s. Of those, 14 have since had their doors louvered, with some part of it filled with louvers to allow air to pass while the door is closed.

The other 74 houses in the neighborhood have had the doors removed since the early August issues, McCollumn said.

"And that way, the filter can be dirty or it can be blocked," McCollumn said. "It doesn't matter. The family is going to be safe. Every house with this configuration — this is the step that we've taken."

McCollum said he could not explain why, if the 88 homes in the neighborhood were built in the 1970s, this never has happened before.

"It's strange that it happened all within the same unit," McCollumn said, "but the neat thing is, we found out about it, we moved quickly. What's really cool is we brought in our emergency services and fire departments and police department on Fort Bragg, and they went to every house and told every resident face to face the issues so they fully understood. Even prior to that, they sent them all emails and made phone calls to all of them. The reason they went face to face, they wanted to make sure they understood."

In the two family cases, McCollumn said, the main air intake duct for the homes' HVAC system was being blocked while the gas water heater was running with the door to the laundry room closed. Lack of incoming fresh air — due to the main air intake blockage — caused the HVAC to pull from the shut laundry room. This pulled carbon monoxide from the running gas water heater, McCollumn said, and pushed it through the homes.

In one case, McCollum said, the air filter was extremely dirty and the air could hardly pass into the other room. In the other case, McCollum said, a laundry basket had been set in front of the air intake duct, blocking the flow of air going into the room.

At the time, McCollumn said, both homes had solid interior doors to the laundry room and both houses had those doors shut. As a result, the HVAC systems had a hard time pulling air.

"What we've done is we've removed the door," McCollumn said, referring to the entrance to the laundry room. "Now that may sound like a very simple, an easy fix. But it's extremely effective."

When everything works well, McCollum said, there's not really a problem. But when the main intake duct is closed and blocked and can't pull air, it's going to pull air from the closed laundry room.

"When that door was closed," McCollumn said, "it's almost like a vacuum in there. That HVAC system has to pull air from somewhere. It only had this small (laundry) room to pull the air from so it's pulling all the air from this room and now pushing the fumes from this vent into this room (by the front entrance). It's pulling the carbon monoxide from the hot water heater that's on into the house. Both families had the laundry running, both doors were closed and either the filter was dirty or it was blocked and they were taking a shower or bath. Therefore, the hot water heater was operating and both hot water heaters were gas, so the fumes were from the hot water heater."

mfutch@fayobserver.com

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