Water heaters to be replaced in wake of couple's poisoning
PORTSMOUTH, Sep 22, 2012 (Menafn - The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Workers this week began replacing about 110 water heaters in the public housing complex where a couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The cost could reach 1 million, according to a contract between Home Depot USA Inc. and the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which manages Swanson Homes.
The housing authority already replaced about 50 water heaters following the deaths in June of Leroy and Inez Stith, both 65.
An investigation showed that a malfunction in the internal workings of the gas-fueled water heater created the fatal level of carbon monoxide, said Kathy Warren, deputy executive director of the housing authority.
Lawyers for the family and housing authority continue to investigate, she said. A carbon monoxide detector in the apartment had been disabled, apparently by the residents, although it remained unclear why.
The new water heaters are not the standard type in a home -- they are bigger and more powerful, and consequently more pricey, said Matt Weaver, manager for the Chesapeake office of wholesale distributor Noland.
Additionally, there's plumbing, piping and roof work required to install them, he said.
Weaver said he had called the housing authority to try to become the contractor, but because the agency needed to act quickly, it chose from a group of national suppliers with contracts that had already been competitively selected.
The water heaters also provide heat to the apartments. The contract with Home Depot says the estimated completion date is Jan. 12.
The new water heaters are also fueled by natural gas. They will shut down if there's a malfunction, Warren said.
Swanson Homes is not capable of supporting electric water heaters because the property doesn't get enough electricity, she said. The housing authority is studying how much it would cost to upgrade the power supply.
Reacting to public criticism from some residents over its response to the deaths, the authority in August held seven informational meetings about carbon monoxide that were announced in hand-delivered notices to each home.
An environmental consultant explained the dangers of the colorless, odorless gas. Residents were given a demonstration of the devices that detect both smoke and carbon monoxide in their apartments: They give four beeps for carbon monoxide, three for smoke and one for a low battery. Fire officials explained how they inspect appliances.
"We do want to continue to have an open line of communication," Warren said.
About 130 of approximately 225 adult residents of Swanson Homes attended the meetings, Warren said.
After the seventh meeting, the housing authority gave every resident a notice saying that officials would come to their homes if they could not attend one of the meetings.
The complex has 210 units.
Yvonne Maddray lives in the building where the Stiths lived and said many residents didn't know what the different detector beeps meant. They are covered with cages.
"We assumed that they were just only a smoke alarm," she said. "A lot of times, when the smoke alarm would go off, we would fan it to shut it off."
Maddray said the meetings helped, but that some residents are still worried.
Warren said another meeting is being planned to provide information at the community center.
Patrick Wilson, 757-222-3893, email@example.com
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