Tests: No carbon monoxide in baby deaths at housing complex

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's state medical examiner's office said Thursday that it found no sign of carbon monoxide poisoning in the deaths of two infants at a public housing community where the gas has forced evacuations.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner issued a news release Thursday saying that the two infants who lived in McDougald Terrace in Durham had tested negative for the gas.

The release said that a determination about the causes of the infants' deaths are pending an autopsy but that it it was releasing the information about the negative tests because of public health concerns.

The deaths of the two babies at McDougald Terrace in November and December have been at the center of concerns about conditions at the complex.

The medical examiner's news release came a day after the authority's chief executive officer Anthony Scott said at a news conference that Durham officials inspected 70 occupied apartments at McDougald Terrace and identified furnaces, hot water heaters and stoves that were emitting carbon monoxide and needed to be replaced in 28 of those units.

The housing authority evacuated about 200 households from the complex and into hotel rooms last week, and it may need to evacuate the remaining 160 units depending on additional results from Wednesday's inspections, Scott said.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and potentially poisonous gas that can cause illness and in cases of prolonged exposure, death, the Mayo Clinic explains.

About a dozen other adults and children at the complex have been treated for exposure to carbon monoxide since mid-November, The News & Observer reported.

McDougald Terrace was built in the 1950s and is Durham’s largest public housing community, the newspaper said. It has failed multiple federal inspections, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Scott said the low inspections scores show the housing authority's properties "are in bad shape." He added that decades of underfunding have contributed to the situation.

The housing authority said it has reached out to local, state and federal partners for help in replacing the appliances, but does not yet have an estimate on how much the repairs will cost or how long they will take.

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