QUEENSBURY - Police believe carbon monoxide from a faulty furnace connection killed a Sheraton Lane woman and sickened six other people at her home Monday morning.
Barbara J. Peffer, 63, was pronounced dead in her home Monday morning at 23 Sheraton Lane after her body was discovered by relatives checking up on her.
An autopsy was performed later Monday at Glens Falls Hospital, and a pathologist found the "cause of death was consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning" pending toxicology tests, Sheriff Larry Cleveland said.
A final determination on the cause of death could not be made until toxicology tests are done to determine whether the level of carbon monoxide in her blood was enough to kill her, he said.
Four of Peffer's relatives, along with a Warren County sheriff's deputy who responded to the call at her home, were taken to the hospital Monday after they began feeling ill.
All reported feeling light-headed and nauseous and having headaches.
The relatives, all from the Albany area, along with Patrol Officer Harry Spahn, were treated at Glens Falls Hospital and released. Another officer who responded felt ill, but didn't go to the hospital.
Bay Ridge Fire Chief Chip Mellon said carbon monoxide levels in the home were found to be 1,300 parts per million when the department used a meter to test the air. More than 100 ppm of the colorless, odorless gas can cause death, he said.
"The reading was so high it was off their meter," sheriff's Lt. Shane Ross said.
No carbon monoxide detector was found in the home, Cleveland said.
Mellon praised Spahn for realizing that the symptoms of those in the house were those of carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Fortunately, they caught on to it right away or who knows what could have happened," the chief said.
Officials later found that part of the furnace ventilation system had fallen off, causing the furnace to vent into the house instead of outside it. Cleveland said it was rusty and old, which apparently played a part in its failure.
Peffer was home alone when she died. Her husband was in Florida, police said.
Ross said a relative called police Monday morning when they went to the home - located in the Rolling Ridge subdivision off Ridge Road - after being unable to contact Peffer. Upon entering the home, they found her dead. The family had last spoken to her on Saturday, Cleveland said.
Sheriff's officers and Bay Ridge firefighters responded to the home for a report of an unattended death about 9:10 a.m. Monday. At first, authorities believed the death to be from natural causes.
But when Spahn, Ross and relatives in the home began to feel what they believed were the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, Bay Ridge firefighters were called back an hour later and used a carbon monoxide meter to test the air.
Ambulances from Empire Ambulance, Fort Edward Rescue Squad and West Glens Falls Emergency Squad transported the victims to Glens Falls Hospital.
The home was ventilated after the test, Mellon said. Officials found that a piece of the furnace flue had fallen off at some point and the gas - which is a byproduct of combustion - escaped into the home.
Mellon said fire officials recommend all homes have carbon monoxide detectors, which typically cost less than $50.
"It's definitely worth the cost," he said.
Homeowners should also make sure to clear snow away from heating flues and vents and clothes dryer vents this time of year, Mellon said. Snow drifts can block them and force the poisonous gas back into the house. A Rochester man died Saturday from carbon monoxide poisoning blamed on a water heater vent becoming clogged.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is not uncommon during the heating season.
On Friday night, an Argyle home was evacuated after high levels of the gas were found in the home. The cause was attributed to a snowblower left running in an attached garage. A carbon monoxide detector in the home alerted occupants to the danger.
In February 2000, a Rensselaer County man died in Johnsburg when the furnace in his cabin malfunctioned, filling the home with carbon monoxide.
"We get a lot of calls for CO (detectors) going off, but I can't remember any like this," Warren County Fire Coordinator Marvin Lemery said. "People have to remember that any open flame gives off carbon monoxide."
Cleveland said the death also serves as a reminder that furnaces should be serviced annually.