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DURHAM — Inspectors discovered that about 40% of apartments at a public housing community where residents have been hospitalized and two babies have died had appliances that were emitting carbon monoxide, a housing authority official confirmed.

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 authority's chief executive officer Anthony Scott said during a news conference Wednesday.

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. Officials have said they can't rule out the gas' role in the deaths of two babies at McDougald Terrace in November and December. Autopsies are still being completed. About a dozen other adults and children at the complex have been treated for exposure to the gas 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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