ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Two sisters were found dead in a north St. Louis home Tuesday morning and first responders suspect a hazardous gas may be responsible.
According to the St. Louis Fire Department, the incident occurred in the 3100 block of Whittier Street, that's in the Greater Ville neighborhood.
The women were not identified but said to be in their mid-50s. They were discovered by a boyfriend. One of the women was on the bed, while the other was located on the floor next to the bed. The boyfriend said he noticed blood coming from the mouth of one of the sisters, that's when he called 911.
Neither woman showed any sign of trauma. An autopsy will determine the official cause of death.
Shortly after the fire department responded, some firefighters began to feel lightheaded. There appeared to be elevated levels of hydrogen cyanide inside the home.
“Our crews that were on scene themselves became a little lightheaded. At that point, we brought in our hazardous detection meters and we were getting hits on hydrogen cyanide, so we pulled our crews out ‘til our hazmat team came here and when they arrived and went back and they got two more hits on hydrogen cyanide,” said Captain Leon Whitener, St. Louis Fire Department. “So at this point, we’re being very careful with our crews and we’re not sure of the cause of death for the two women inside. Right now, there doesn’t appear to be any trauma involved but we have to do a more thorough investigation.”
Firefighters donned hazmat suits to go in the home and open windows to ventilate the residence so police and the coroner could enter.
The colorless gas is extremely poisonous and may smell like old sneakers. Many people can't detect the smell. The CDC says that when the chemical is inhaled it interferes with the normal use of oxygen by nearly every organ of the body. Early symptoms like a headache, dizziness, vomiting, followed by seizures, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and cardiac arrest. These symptoms usually occur within minutes.
It is not clear what caused the elevated levels of hydrogen cyanide at the scene. But hydrogen cyanide poisoning can result from inhalation of fumes from burning plastic products.
Neighbors said the older sister cared for the younger one who was disabled and say that she recently lost her job and seem depressed which is why they suggested she see a doctor. But again, at this point, we don’t know if their deaths were accidental or if there was something more behind it.