A new study has discovered a pretty disturbing, deadly fact: The lethal gas carbon monoxide can pass through gypsum wallboard, better known as drywall. Simply put, your home’s own walls won’t protect you from the poisonous gas that could filter in from a neighbor’s apartment.

That’s the topic of a story Forbes published Tuesday headlined “Carbon Monoxide, A Silent Killer: Are You Safe?’ Apparently, you often are not. The article is a fine primer on the dangers of CO poisoning, and talks about the implications and issues that arise out of the new research.


The story cited a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). That research  determined that carbon monoxide passes through drywall, the apparently quite porous material typically used as walls and ceiling in homes.

Here is the summary of the research that JAMAs provided


“Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a significant U.S. health problem, responsible for approximately 500 accidental deaths annually,1 and a risk of 18% to 35% for cognitive brain injury 1 year after poisoning.2 Most morbidity and mortality from CO poisoning is believed to be preventable through public education and CO alarm use.

States have been enacting legislation mandating residential CO alarm installation.3 However, as of December 2012, 10 of the 25 states with statutes mandating CO alarms exempted homes without fuel-burning appliances or attached garages, believing that without an internal CO source, risk is eliminated. This may not be true if CO diffuses directly through wallboard material.”

The Forbes story quoted the JAMA study’s lead author, who explained that in a multi-family building, one of your neighbors could foolishly bring a charcoal grill inside to their own apartment, for example. The carbon monoxide from that grill could infiltrate your apartment by passing through the drywall, and if you are exempt from having a CO detector under your state’s law, you could sustain carbon monoxide poisoning.

That why some of the experts in the Forbes story say that state laws should require all homes to have CO detectors, not just residences with gas stoves and fireplaces or an attached garage where a car could be left idling, according to Forbes. As one expert said, once the gas is in a building it can go from unit to unit.

Forbes cited a case in a county in North Carolina, which required most houses to have CO detectors, but exempted all-electric residences that didn’t have attached garages. Alarms that were powered by electricity alone were  also permitted.

Months later, when an ice storm knocked out power for nine days, there were 124 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the county, Forbes said. And roughly 96 percent of the “severe” poisonings happened in homes that didn’t have a functioning CO detector.

As a result, the North Carolina county changed its ordinance to mandate carbon monoxide detectors in all homes, and that the devices installed had to have a back-up battery system, according to Forbes.

The Centers for Disease Control also offered its own scary fact: That just 30 percent of U.S. homes have working carbon monoxide detectors.

Perhaps even worse, according to Forbes, is that some folks mistakenly believe that their smoke detectors also act as carbon monoxide alarms.

The Forbes story also addressed an issue that I’ve written many blogs about, namely carbon monoxide poisoning in hotels. When you are traveling, you should proactively protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning by bringing a portable carbon monoxide detector with you, Forbes suggested.

It’s good advice. Such CO alarms can be purchased in hardware stores, and are small and relatively cheap, according to Forbes.

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