Friday, March 8, 2013

Woman Dies After Inhaling Sewer Gas From Kitchen Sink

What's that smell? Oh, good heavens, don't inhale! A woman apparently died Wednesday after asphyxiating sewer gases which came from a sink that had been disassembled. Police in Kansas City say 44-year-old Bernice A. Weaver was unconscious when she was discovered lying on the kitchen floor in front of the sink and the rented apartment was filled with what appeared to be the strong odor of sewer gas. Bernice, who was homeless and was staying with a friend at the rented home since January suffered from various medical issues including emphysema, asthma and Bell's Palsy. She previously suffered two strokes. According to reports, a plumber told the homeowner that the removal of the trap under the kitchen sink left an open sewer line into the house. The plumber also detected sewer gas coming from a basement floor drain.
“It was like sticking your face into the holding tank of a Johnny on the Spot (portable toilet) and taking a deep breath,” said Sgt. Eric Dillenkoffer, who responded to the scene. “That’s how intense it was ... It was obvious one of the sewer pipes was leaking.” Firefighters told police they were concerned the victim might have been asphyxiated by the suspected gases. An ambulance took Weaver to a hospital, where she was declared dead. Police aired out the house, called the city inspector and called the homeowner. The homeowner hired a plumber who came out Wednesday night and told her the removal of the trap under the kitchen sink left an open sewer line into the house. She said the plumber also detected sewer gas coming from a basement floor drain. All the home’s doors and windows were shut, apparently allowing toxic gas to fill the home. The Jackson County Medical Examiner’s office was still trying to determine Weaver’s cause of death. Area plumbers and city officials had never heard of a local death attributed to sewer gas asphyxiation. If the death is attributed to sewer gas, it would be among very few documented cases that have occurred inside a residence in the United States, said Nick Gromicko, of Nederland, Colo., the founder of the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. He said sewer gas contains a mix of gases, including methane and hydrogen sulfide. When sewer gases diffuse into household air, they gradually displace oxygen and can suffocate occupants, Gromicko said. Extremely high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause people to lose consciousness in one or two breaths, according to experts. Residents normally detect the distinct “rotten egg” smell when the gas is present at a very low level and get the problem fixed, air out the home or remove themselves from the home. But if residents overlooked the stench and other preliminary symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, they could eventually lose their sense of smell, he said. At certain levels, the gas can paralyze a person’s olfactory nerve, removing the awareness of the danger, he said.

sources: KCTV | Kansas City Star

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