Should Carbon Monoxide Detectors Be Required in Hotel Rooms?

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Three guests died in the same room within three months at a hotel property in Boone, North Carolina back in 2013 as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning — which led to the charging of the business executive managing the hotel property with involuntary manslaughter; and prompting the family of two of those people to file a lawsuit against Best Western International this past February.

The typical source of carbon monoxide in hotel properties is from a heating unit — whether it is in the form of a boiler or a device used to heat up a swimming pool. A malfunction of such units — not always obvious or easily detected upon initial inspection — can cause levels of carbon monoxide to increase, which means that the risk of you becoming sick is greater.

Carbon monoxide from the swimming pool water heater — which purportedly had not been inspected since 2000, when the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza hotel property in Boone was built — allegedly seeped up from a corroded exhaust pipe into room 225, killing an elderly couple and a boy eleven years of age. The deaths occurred within three months of each other.

The hotel property has since changed brands, and is now known as the Quality Inn & Suites University.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors are Required By Law in Some States…

Carbon monoxide detectors are required in private dwellings in 25 states via state statute; and another eleven states require carbon monoxide detectors in private dwellings regulatorily through the adoption of the International Residential Code or via an amendment to their state’s building code, according to this article of the National Conference of State Legislators.

However, only twelve states require installation of carbon monoxide detectors in hotels and motels under statute; while two states have requirements through administrative regulations alone…

…and only four states require carbon monoxide detectors in school buildings.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning — and How to Protect Yourself

According to WebMD, the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

As carbon monoxide builds up in your blood, symptoms get worse and may include:

  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Fast breathing, fast heartbeat, or chest pain
  • Vision problems
  • Seizures

If you have symptoms that you believe could be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Leave the area right away — in this case, your hotel room — and
  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital

If you keep breathing the fumes, you may pass out and die. The problem is that carbon monoxide is also known as the “silent killer”, as you cannot see, smell or taste carbon monoxide — which means you will most likely not realize that you are even breathing it inside of you. This accentuates the importance of recognizing the symptoms listed above as soon as possible, as saving even precious seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur suddenly; or it can occur over an extended period of time, depending on the amount of carbon monoxide which may be present in the area. Breathing low levels of carbon monoxide over a long period can cause severe heart problems and brain damage. You are advised by WebMD to see a doctor if:

  • You often are short of breath and have mild nausea and headaches when you are indoors
  • You feel better when you leave the building and worse when you return
  • Other people you work or live with have the same symptoms you do

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Hotels: What are Your Chances?

This leads to the questions: what are your chances of becoming ill — or even dying — from carbon monoxide poisoning in your hotel room; and should carbon monoxide detectors be required in hotel rooms?

There were at least 30 reports of high levels of carbon monoxide in hotel properties between 2010 and 2013 — resulting in eight deaths — as well as the evacuation of greater than 1,300 people from hotel properties, according to this article written by Gary Stoller and published in USA TODAY

…and those statistics are only what has been reported, as it is obviously unclear how many times hotel guests who may have suffered the effects caused by high levels of carbon monoxide but not realized the source of the perceived illness. People who suffer the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can mistake the symptoms for another malady — such as the flu, for example.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission of the United States, greater than 150 people die each year in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning associated with consumer products — including faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces — and unrelated to fire as the cause. It is unknown to me as to exactly how many of those 150 people died while staying at a hotel property.

In other words, this is not exactly a problem of epidemic proportions — especially when considering the number of hotel rooms located within the United States alone, estimated to be close to five million — meaning that the chances of you being sickened or killed by carbon monoxide poisoning are minimal at best…

…but not completely impossible, either. However, that is of no comfort or solace to the families of the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning in the aforementioned case at the hotel property in Boone.

Summary

Up for debate is why smoke detectors are mandatory equipment in hotel rooms across the United States — but carbon monoxide detectors are not required in 38 of those states?

You may have already guessed the answer: money. Installation of carbon monoxide smoke detectors could cost the lodging industry as much as $250 million — an exorbitant cost to minimize a risk which is already considered minimal at best. whether or not you believe that hotel properties should be required to install carbon monoxide detectors in hotel rooms for the added safety of guests despite the cost.

Meanwhile, if you are concerned — despite the low risk of being affected by carbon monoxide while you are in a hotel room — you may also want to consider carrying a portable device which is capable of detecting carbon monoxide for peace of mind whenever you travel, in addition to following the advice offered by WebMD. Portable devices which are capable of detecting carbon monoxide can vary greatly in cost, size and weight; and they can obviously be used in places other than hotel rooms.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Comments

  1. Donna L says

    As far as I’m concerned, Carbon Monoxide detectors should absolutely be required by law in every hotel room. In August of 2006, I was staying at a Calgary Holiday Inn and woke in the morning with a terrible headache. I got in the shower and, while there, fire alarms started going off in the hallway. By the time I got out of the shower, dressed and dashed out of there, most of the hotel patrons were already outside. Fortunately, there were no deaths but it certainly was not because of preventative measures by that hotel.

    I now carry a portable CO2 detector with me whenever I travel.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/hotel-evacuated-after-carbon-monoxide-leak-1.578423

    • Brian Cohen says

      I am thankful that there were no deaths, Donna L — and I am glad that you were able to escape harm.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience.

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