Manheim, PA- Blasting released gas, officials say

Residents of a Manheim Township development awoke early Thursday morning to the flashing lights of fire trucks and ambulances — and a neighbor lying in her backyard, overcome by carbon monoxide.

The woman, Beth Mack, and her daughter and son were taken to the hospital, where they were treated and released. All had been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, an odorless, tasteless gas.

Thursday afternoon, another resident living in the development came home from the park with her two small children, opened her door and heard the shrill alarm of her carbon monoxide detector.

All in all, it was an unsettling day for some residents of Penn’s Crossing, a development west of Route 501, off Bloomfield Drive.

“I’m not staying here tonight,” said Danielle Vitti, a resident of Spurrier Drive whose carbon monoxide detector went off Thursday.

A Manheim Township official said he believed the carbon monoxide buildup in the neighborhood occurred after blasting Wednesday at a home being built on Bowyer Lane, next to the Mack home.

The combustion from the blasting causes carbon monoxide, or CO, said Don Forry, the township code compliance director.

While holes had been dug to properly vent the CO, and the company followed all state regulations, Wednesday was very humid and there was a heavy rain later in the day, Forry said.

The rain and humidity likely prevented the gas from dissipating the way it should have, said Forry and Travis Martzall, vice president of Warren’s Excavating and Drilling Inc., which did the blasting at the site.

Heavy equipment operators were digging at the site Thursday. Forry and Martzall said that should help to vent the gas.

The amount of CO in the Mack home had decreased when it was retested Thursday afternoon, but it was still at an unsafe level.

Forry and fire company officials today planned to return to the home, which the family has temporarily vacated, to test it again for carbon monoxide.

The first problem with the gas became evident around 2 a.m. Thursday.

Mack had been feeling ill for a day and she and her daughter became progressively worse Wednesday night. Her son, who had been away, was able to help the two out of the home when they realized they had a problem early Thursday morning.

Neffsville Community Fire Company firefighters responded to the home and measured over 500 parts per million of carbon monoxide in the second-floor bedroom of the home, said Chief Mike Elliott.

In the basement, they measured 800 parts per million.

An acceptable level is under 10 parts per million, Elliott said. Firefighters wear a breathing apparatus when the level reaches 35 parts per million.

“They are very lucky,” Elliott said of the Mack family. “That’s probably the understatement of the day.”

The family did not have a CO detector, nor did some other nearby families.

Warren’s Excavating officials handed out free detectors and an informational flyer to 30 homes near the excavation site Thursday afternoon.

Firefighters also checked the CO levels inside neighboring houses a couple of times Thursday, to ensure there was no further buildup of the gas.

Martzall said the company knocked on doors before Wednesday’s blast, to inform neighbors it was occurring, but the Mack family was not home at the time.

In the future, he said, the company will try to be more proactive, possibly leaving literature with information about the blasting and the potential of CO buildup at homes near blasting sites.

Vitti said the excavator had given her a CO detector during previous blasting in the neighborhood, and it had gone off in 2007, when other homes were being excavated. But she didn’t fully understand the relationship between the blasts and the gas before Thursday.

“I wish we had more education,” she said.

Said another neighbor, who declined to give his name, “I just want full disclosure.”

Said Martzall, “There’s always something you learn from every situation. Going forward we’re going to be more proactive on the front side of all projects.”