Heavy rains, low barometric pressure cause oxygen supply to fall to dangerous levels

Carbon dioxide can be released into homes on reclaimed mine land with heavy rain and low barometric pressure, which can then displace levels of oxygen making the area difficult to breathe in.

ELBERFELD — Residents living above reclaimed mine land are reporting issues with high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) due from heavy rains impacting breathing and resulting in the death of at least one Elberfeld resident.

Heavy rains and low barometric pressure combined on Friday, March 3, creating an unsafe situation for some residents.

Users on Facebook began circulating the dangers after an Elberfeld woman died sheltering from the storm in her basement.

Reggie Quates said his mother-in-law was only doing what anyone is supposed to do in severe weather — shelter in a basement.

Tragically, CO2 had displaced too much oxygen in the basement, leading to death by asphyxiation.

Quates said his mother-in-law’s furnace was also having trouble staying lit around the same time.

“There was no oxygen in that space,” he said.

Community members gathered at a local church last week for a standing room only meeting to discuss the events.

Simply put, acid rain can react with limestone in the ground from extensive mining, resulting in the generation of CO2.

The CO2 then rises into crawl spaces and basements or around sump pumps where it displaces oxygen.

Boonville Fire Chief Steve Byers said his crews recently responded to one house just outside of the city limits where a family was complaining about difficulty breathing.

“As soon as they got outside they immediately felt better,” said Byers. “A crew went in... and as soon as they crossed the threshold of the home the oxygen levels began to drop on the meter.”

Byers said the oxygen meter was reading extremely low and dangerous levels of oxygen.

“It got down to 3.2% in the basement,” he said. “A normal reading is right around 21%.”

Byers said during mine reclamation, soil levels can become acidic because of the limestone.

“With limestone in the ground, the acidic soil and heavy rains or snow, those gases start pushing out because they don’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “The easiest way out is the dry soil underneath basement floors. You can also have decaying materials in the ground that can cause elevated levels of CO2. High acid rains — when they combine with calcium and a carbon source such as coal in the ground — they can produce CO2. There’s a couple different factors that can produce it.”

Byers said symptoms of high levels of CO2 include headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, blurred vision, confusion and even loss of consciousness.

“CO2 isn’t a poison gas but it displaces oxygen,” he said.

Residents have also complained about not being able to keep candles or pilot lights lit in furnaces, water heaters or stoves.

Byers said local cases that his department has seen have been residences built on reclaimed strip mines.

“Every incident that we’ve seen in homes has been in basements,” he said. “We’re not saying it can’t happen in slab construction or in a crawl space.”

Byers said the storm in early March was the “perfect storm” of having a low pressure system mixed with heavy rains and risk of severe weather. His department was made aware of at least four different homes having issues with CO2 levels during the storms on March 3.

Some solutions include soil depressurization, where engineers lay pipe under a basement to help pull gasses out of the ground and away from homes.

Byers said there are also options to purchase a home CO2 and oxygen monitor.

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