A family of nine was hospitalized over the weekend after warnings from the carbon-monoxide detector in their Darby home were ignored.
The family, which rented a house on Cedar Avenue, mistakenly believed the carbon-monoxide detector was a smoke detector, officials said.
"They didn't find any smoke or flames and they thought it wasn't working right," said Lt. Bill Chischnijak of Darby Fire Co. No. 1. "They took the battery out. This could have been a tragedy."
The parents, Abu Bakr Raheem and Edith Nestor, both 44, went to Mercy-Fitzgerald Hospital around 10 p.m. Saturday with nausea and dizziness, officials said.
Doctors, believing the couple had been exposed to high levels of potentially lethal carbon monoxide, called emergency workers, who went to the family's home.
The fire department took readings that showed the carbon-monoxide levels in the basement were 300 parts per million, which is 10 times the acceptable level. On the first floor the reading was 100 parts per million.
An improperly installed water heater and a blocked exhaust flue from the furnace were responsible for the buildup of gas, Chischnijak said.
The couple's seven children, ranging in age from 14 months to 18 years, were suffering from similar symptoms. All were vomiting and one had fallen down the steps, officials said.
They also were taken to Mercy Fitzgerald. The parents and older children were then sent to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, while the younger children were taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
HUP has a hyperbaric chamber that is used to return the oxygen levels in the blood to normal. It was unclear last night how many members of the family had been released from the two hospitals.
"We could very well have had nine fatalities," Darby Borough Mayor Paula M. Brown said yesterday. "This is a horrible situation."
Brown said she plans to begin a public awareness campaign and will look for ways to provide a carbon-monoxide detector to each household in Darby, which has roughly 10,000 residents.
Meanwhile, the borough's code enforcement officer declared the home unfit for human occupancy until the necessary repairs are made.
The Red Cross has agreed to provide lodging for the family until tomorrow. Landlord Peter Nguyen said he plans to have the home ready for the family to return by then.
"I am very distraught about this," he said yesterday while searching for a contractor. "I hope they are all OK. I am trying to get this fixed as soon as possible."
Carbon monoxide, which has no odor, taste or color, is known as the "silent killer." Each year in the United States, more than 200 people die of carbon-monoxide poisoning, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The gas is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas, liquefied petroleum, oil, kerosene, coal or wood. It is also produced by running vehicles and the burning of charcoal.
Symptoms include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea.
Chischnijak said it is a bad idea to disregard a smoke or carbon-dioxide detector.
"When in doubt, give us a call," he said. "It is best to have us and not need us than to need us and not have us."