Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Business Owners at Fault?

Should Carbon Monoxide Detectors Be Required in all Hotels, Businesses, and Rental Housing Units?

A Rhode Island man died in his sleep on Tuesday, January 31, 2012, when his hotel room at the Holiday Inn and Suites in South Charleston, WV filled with carbon monoxide. Another man is still in critical condition, and at least a dozen more guests are being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

A swimming pool heater at the hotel was the source of the deadly carbon monoxide leak. The heater pump was fed by a pipe that went all the way through the building. The hotel had no carbon monoxide detectors.

Carbon Monoxide: the Silent Killer

Often called "the silent killer," Carbon monoxide (CO) is an invisible and odorless gas that is produced when burning any fuel, such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, wood, and charcoal. Carbon monoxide causes illness by decreasing the amount of oxygen present in a person's body.

CO poisoning can often be mistaken for other illnesses, such as the flu. The most common symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and confusion. A sleeping or intoxicated person may not experience symptoms before they lose consciousness or die. Often, other people in the place of business or household will exhibit similar symptoms.

In addition to death, carbon monoxide can cause severe learning disability, memory loss, and personality changes. Young children are especially vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide and may show symptoms sooner than a healthy adult. Because of their smaller bodies, children process CO differently than adults and may be more severely affected by it.

Recent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Cases

Carbon monoxide poisoning happens in hotels, rental units, and businesses every year. Between 1989 and 2004, 68 incidents of CO poisoning occurring at hotels, motels, and resorts were identified, resulting in 772 accidentally poisoned: 711 guests, 41 employees or owners, and 20 rescue personnel. Of those poisoned, 27 died.

The following are some of the most recent cases of carbon monoxide poisoning:

•· January 26, 2012: A leak from a forklift Thursday led to 13 employees at Chippewa Bi Products in Wisconsin being sent to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning. Propane forklifts were being used in the Chippewa Bi Products building where the employees got ill, and authorities believe one of the forklifts had a mechanical problem and released the toxic carbon monoxide fumes. Chippewa Bi Products said that it has carbon monoxide detectors, and that one did go off at the time of the incident.

•· January 3, 2012: A Target store in Keene, N.H., had to be evacuated Tuesday due to high levels of carbon monoxide, and 17 employees were taken to local hospitals. The source of the carbon monoxide was a gas-powered cutting machine that was in the Target in the morning cutting out pieces of its concrete floor as part of a renovation, according to the Keene Sentinel. Fire authorities believe that the store wasn't properly ventilated when that work was done, or when workers took out the concrete slabs with a tractor.

•· December 30, 2011: The Hilton Garden Inn in Green Bay, Wisconsin had a carbon monoxide leak that led to about 16 people going to the hospital. There was no mention in the report of whether the hotel had carbon monoxide detectors as required by Wisconsin state law. High levels of carbon monoxide were found in a swimming pool area, a workout room, a mechanical room, a stairway and several restrooms.

•· September 20, 2011: In Morgantown, WV one person was killed and several others hospitalized after carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in the home they were renting.

•· July 25, 2011: Twelve people staying at a Norman, Oklahoma hotel were taken to the hospital after breathing toxic levels of carbon monoxide. Firefighters arrived at the Sooner Legends Inn and Suites after a 3-year-old child became ill and was taken to the hospital. The firefighters detected carbon monoxide and evacuated the hotel. The cause of the carbon monoxide leak was determined to be from a damaged, leaking ventilation pipe running from the boiler to the roof.

Business Owners Are Responsible to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Hotel owners and landlords have a heightened responsibility to ensure that their facilities are safe for guests and tenants. Inspections and proper maintenance of equipment and heating units and the installation and maintenance of detectors are common-sense preventative measures one would expect any building owner to have in place. Unfortunately, West Virginia does not require all hotels and rental homes to have carbon monoxide detectors. Further legislation is needed to ensure that employees, guests, patrons and renters are kept safe from carbon monoxide poisoning which often results in catastrophic injuries and deaths.