June 21, 2008

Stench Cloud Returns to Meadville

By Keith Gushard, The Meadville Tribune, Pa.

Jun. 21--The headaches were deja vu for Rich Dodge.

"I came home from work and started not feeling good again," Dodge said Friday night as he stood outside his Lord Street residence.

The mysterious rotten egg stench was back.

Dodge was one of dozens of Meadville residents affected Friday night by the stench -- hydrogen sulfide -- swirling out of sanitary sewers in the area bounded by Baldwin, Terrace and Spring streets and Glenwood Avenue.

The same thing happened twice last year -- in June and August -- and authorities have yet to solve those cases. Those incidents were so bad that some homes were evacuated and a few residents were hospitalized. No hospitalizations were reported Friday, but authorities did urge residents to leave the area.

In both Friday's incident and the June 2007 incident, a potentially-deadly amount of hydrogen sulfide was detected by emergency responders. Hydrogen sulfide is produced naturally by decaying organic matter and is released from sewage sludge, liquid manure, sulfur hot springs and natural gas, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Federal guidelines call for a maximum of 20 parts per million as a safe level while 30 parts per million is the level at which emergency action should be taken. A reading of 100 parts per million is considered dangerous to life and health. Not only can the gas explode, the stench can cause loss of consciousness and cardiac arrest.

In June 2007, a level of 499 parts per million was detected in the sewers; Friday night at 8:30 p.m. that level reached more than 500 parts per million. Emergency personnel were called to the area around 7:30 p.m. when residents began noticing an odor coming from a manhole in the Baldwin Street Extension area near Weber-Harris Ford, said Capt. Evan Hasko of Meadville Central Fire Department.

Meadville Central, Meadville Volunteer Fire Department and West Mead 1 Volunteer Fire Department and Crawford County Haz-Mat Team along with Meadville Police Department went door-to-door to take readings at homes and advise residents to possibly evacuate.

Initial readings were at 200 parts per million and had dropped to 176 by 9:03 p.m. as fire department personnel began flushing the sewer system with water, Capt. Evan Hasko of Meadville Central Fire Department said. The level had dropped to 76 parts per million by 10:15 p.m., he said.

The Penn Plaza off Terrace Street was being used as a command center by emergency personnel and as a safe area for those who chose to leave their homes but had no other place to go.

Only one person out of at least nine people who had gone to Penn Plaza was checked medically, but there was no illness, Hasko said.

Meadville Medical Center had no reports of persons sickened by fumes coming to the hospital, a nursing supervisor said.

Cora Perrine, who lives on Spring Street, was one of the nine people who had gone to the Penn Plaza to avoid the fumes.

"I have heart problems," said Perrine. Perrine said she had felt short of breath at home, but was feeling better.

Maria Bair, Perrine's roommate, said she noticed the odor, too.

"I felt a bit light headed," she said.

Perrine, Bair and Perrine's step-daughter, Delilah Moore, were planning to wait for the all clear and return home.

Dodge said he wasn't staying at his Lord Street home. He was planning to stay the night at his mother's farm near Guys Mills, he said.

Emergency personnel still were on the scene as of the Tribune's press deadline Friday night, but odor levels were continuing to drop, Hasko said.

As for what caused the stench cloud to return again, "it's totally a mystery," Hasko said.

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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