Action may set precedent for safe CO levels in residences

May 3, 2000
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MIAMI, FL — Better communication and coordination to prevent carbon monoxide-caused deaths are being crafted by Florida state’s newly appointed indoor air quality program coordinator, and a class action civil lawsuit has been filed against owners of an apartment complex following the carbon monoxide death sometime Jan. 8 or 9 of a 33-year-old woman.

Oveta Forbes, her daughter, and two friends were all found recently in the Miami Lakes apartment to which they had just moved. Forbes died, and the three other female occupants, ranging in age from 16 to 26, were unconscious.

Tim Wallace, employed by the Florida Department of Health for the past nine and a half years, recently assumed his duties as the department’s IAQ program coordinator. He was asked by the state toxicologist to devise better communication and coordination among county health departments and other agencies to prevent such deaths in the future.

A draft of his plan may be ready in February, he told The News.

Enforceable levels

One concern is that no enforceable safe or threshold levels of carbon monoxide exist for residences, he said. OSHA and NIOSH guidelines suggest allowable maximums of 50 or 35 parts per million (ppm, time-weighted average), respectively, for workplace environments. “Any residential regulation would have to be legislated,” he stated.

Wallace added that he is particularly concerned about high-risk residents, such as the elderly or very young.

An environmental specialist sent by the Miami-Dade County Health Department last November to the apartment where Forbes died found 106 ppm of carbon monoxide there. That was confirmed to The News by Morton Laitner, attorney for the Miami-Dade County Health Department.

Previous inspection showed high CO

The fumes were believed to have come from a water heater that supplied all 20 apartments in one building. Repairs were ordered, but a follow-up inspection was never requested, according to records of building officials, the Miami Herald reported.

The class action lawsuit was filed January 11 in the circuit court in and for Miami-Dade County against Terra Cotta Place Apartments, Inc., and Feit Management Co., both Florida corporations, on behalf of Veda Bailey, individually and as next best friend of Saida Bailey, “and on behalf of all others similarly situated.”

The complaint filed by the Miami law firm of Russo & Heffernan, P.A., seeks relief “for all persons, including deceased persons, who suffered injuries or death” from exposure to carbon monoxide or other toxic fumes and gases while residing at the Terra Cotta Place Apartments.

Veda Bailey had filed a complaint last Nov. 1 about fumes in apartment 205, saying she had a series of vomiting and dizzy spells and that in one instance she and her 8-year-old daughter, Saida, had fallen into a fume-induced sleep. That was the same apartment into which Forbes, her daughter, and two women friends moved Jan. 8.

The defendants have 20 days to respond.

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