Two people died in their home near Everson after inhaling a generator’s exhaust fumes during a weekend power outage, according to the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Anthony Vermeulen, 82, and Marilyn Vermeulen, 71, were found dead in their home at 1158 Central Road, between Laurel and Everson, at around 6:45 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 2.
Autopsies performed Thursday morning revealed the couple inhaled gas fumes, most likely carbon monoxide, from a portable generator, Whatcom County Medical Examiner Gary Goldfogel said.
The exact time of their death was unclear, Goldfogel said.
The family had not heard from the older couple since Sunday or Monday. A family member checked on the house Wednesday and found their bodies, according to the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.
The generator was running just outside a cellar door, which was opened slightly. Deputies investigated the deaths as a homicide but found there was no criminal activity involved, the sheriff’s office said.
Both bodies were found in separate rooms in the main part of the house — not near the generator. Anthony was on a chair; Marilyn was on the floor, said Undersheriff Jeff Parks.
A windstorm knocked out power to thousands of Puget Sound Energy customers in Whatcom County on Saturday, Aug. 29. It took several days for PSE crews to restore power to those who lost it in the storm.
Puget Sound Energy would not say Thursday when the Vermeulen home lost power or when it was restored.
Deaths caused by portable generators are not uncommon, and statistics show there have been more generator-related deaths in recent years. There were six carbon monoxide deaths from generators in 1999, but more than 100 in 2005. In total, there were 703 such deaths from 2004 to 2013 in the U.S., according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Of those deaths, 29 percent of the time the generators were used during a temporary power outage stemming from a weather-related problem like Saturday’s windstorm.
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Placement: Never use portable generators inside homes or garages. They should be positioned outside, far from the building. Use a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector.
Symptoms: Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can be similar to flu-like symptoms. They include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
Read instructions: Never operate near combustible materials. Protect the generator from rain and snow. Allow engine to cool at least two minutes before refueling with gasoline to avoid it catching fire.
Sources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, National Safety Council.