Following reports last month about a Maryland police department inspecting its fleet of Ford Explorers for carbon monoxide leaks, two Maryland women suspect they have a similar problem.
A few months ago, Valentina Shedrick of Laurel and Susan Stazetski of White Plains thought they were going crazy. Every time they got behind the wheel, they felt sleepy and nauseous, they said.
“I would get these massive migraines,” Stazetski said.
“After I had been driving it for a length of time, I just started feeling like I'm getting a lot of headaches,” Shedrick said.
Both drove Ford Explorers.
Stazetski bought her 2015 Explorer brand new and almost immediately started smelling something gross, she said.
“I was starting to smell an odor,” she said. “There was some exhaust smell. An egg, sulphur type of smell.”
Almost every time she would get behind the wheel she would start feeling sleepy, she said.
“Like going out of the lane, my head is bobbingn up and down,” she said.
A few months later, she fell asleep behind the wheel, waking up with a tree in her path, she said.
“I could have hit the oncoming traffic, and it was by the grace of God that my son and I did not die,” she said.
After that, she went to the doctor thinking she was seriously sick. All sorts of tests, including scans of her brain and tests of her blood, came back negative.
Shedrick said she and her husband, Mark, started smelling something nasty in their 2016 Explorer not long after they bought it.
“Like sulphur, or some type of fumes, gas fumes, or something really nasty,” she said.
Then came migraines and nausea.
“I'm overall a healthy young lady,” she said. “I have no health issues at all, and then to get in this vehicle and driving and just feeling really dizzy and lightheaded. Because I'm always complaining to my husband about this all the time.”
Stazetski and Shedrick said the fumes in their cars would come and go but their headaches stayed constant.
Neither thought their deteriorating health had anything to do with their SUVs until news reports surfaced about numerous police officers nationwide getting sick from fumes they said were seeping into their Explorers. When they saw News4’s report on the Montgomery County Police Department taking Explorers off the road for repairs, they realized their cars might be failing them, not their health.
Each immediately took her Explorer for service.
“They did say that it was an exhaust fume leak in the vehicle,” Shedrick said.
“I took my vehicle in to Ford and had it tested, and sure enough, it was my truck,” Stazetski said.
In Stazetski's case, she had her car repaired twice for exhaust leaks by a Ford dealership, and to this day she says she's still suffering from severe migraines.
The Shedricks have been waiting for months for a part to fix their exhaust leak.
“They said we can still drive the vehicle as long as we don't turn on the recirculate system and just use fresh air,” Mark Shedrick said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into all 2011 through 2017 Ford Explorers for possible carbon monoxide leaks.
"Engineers have been working with police departments and customers nationwide to address concerns," Ford told News4 in a statement. Ford also is inspecting Stazetski's and the Shedricks’ vehicles.
But on Ford's website, the company stresses that while it's taking action to address concerns of first-responder vehicles, it underscores there's "no issue with carbon monoxide in regular Explorers."
Valentina Shedrick isn't convinced and agreed to allow carbon monoxide toxicologist Albert Donnay test her vehicle using a professional CO detector, not one you'd use for your home. He set up a detector in the back of the Explorer and one up front. Driving along back roads at low speeds, he saw no change in air quality. But on the highway driving more than 40 mph, the CO level was 9 parts per million (ppm) in the front and 30 ppm in the back, levelling out to 15 ppm. According to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for carbon monoxide, established by the EPA, 9 ppm measured as an annual second-maximum eight hour average concentration and 35 ppm averaged over a one-hour period.
“And it takes time for all this CO to leave her body,” Donnay said. “It doesn't go out quickly.”
Shedrick said she won’t drive her Explorer.
There are 2,700 complaints to NHTSA from people who say they've been exposed to exhaust fumes or carbon monoxide, including what Ford calls "regular" Explorers.
"Safety is our top priority," Ford told News4 in a statement. "We take these matters seriously. Ford engineers have been working with police departments and customers nationwide to address concerns, and are currently onsite in the Washington DC area working to inspect both vehicles. According to NHTSA, no substantive data or actual evidence has been obtained supporting a claim that any alleged injury or crash allegations have been the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. We encourage any driver with concerns to contact their Ford dealer or call our hotline at 888-260-5575."