Kentucky Carbon Monoxide Deaths: What Will it Take?
Carbon monoxide deaths and serious injuries keep occurring in hotels because the industry refuses to comply with standards and rules about carbon monoxide alarms.
By Rebecca Martin
Kentucky is one of the majority of states in the US who do not require carbon monoxide detectors in hotels or motels. Currently 14 states require carbon monoxide detectors in hotel and motels. Like many states, Kentucky requires carbon monoxide detectors in other residential establishments where people might be sleeping such as newly constructed one and two-family homes.
“Since 2011, Kentucky law has required CO detectors in newly constructed one and two-family dwellings, townhomes less than three stories, apartment buildings, dormitories, adult/child care facilities and assisted living facilities that contain a fuel-burning-appliance or an attached “Since 2011, Kentucky law has required CO detectors in newly constructed one and two-family dwellings, townhomes less than three stories, apartment buildings, dormitories, adult/child care facilities and assisted living facilities that contain a fuel-burning-appliance or an attached garage.” https://www.kentuckytoday.com/state/carbon-monoxide-precautions-urged/article_ac82a434-86d4-5ba6-8236-a8312c452f98.html
Despite the regulatory framework that the hotel industry likes to cite when they kill and disable people with their neglect, there should be no doubt that the standard in this industry is for there to be carbon monoxide alarms in any place that there can be a carbon monoxide death. That is particularly true in any place where someone might sleep – in other words, hotel rooms.
The legal distinction between the safety issues addressed when one is sleeping in their own home as opposed to the safety issues addressed when sleeping in an establishment licensed are ridiculous. Since the Boone Best Western multiple fatality events in 2013, there should be no doubt left.
HOTELS MUST HAVE CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS ANYWHERE THAT FUMES CAN GO.
That means everywhere in the building, not just where the fuel burning appliances are.
Multiple Carbon Monoxide Deaths and Injuries In Hotels
In just the last few months, there is a case of people poisoned from a hotel pool heater in a conference room above the pool; a case of people being poisoned at the pool and this most recent death on February 4th death at the Quality Inn & Suites in La Grange, KY. The couple’s cause of death is currently listed as a possible death by carbon monoxide poisoning pending the coroner’s report even though high levels of carbon monoxide were found at the scene. One other guest was sent to the hospital for suspected carbon monoxide exposure while the other guests were evacuated for their safety. Could these deaths have been prevented by the presence of carbon monoxide detectors? And if so, why weren’t they in place?
“In Kentucky, CO poisoning sends an average of 217 people per year to the emergency room, according to data from the Kentucky Environmental Public Health Tracking program. Data from the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program states that from 2014-2018 an average of 16 Kentuckians die every year from unintentional CO poisoning. These deaths and trips to the emergency room due to carbon monoxide poisoning are preventable when people are prepared.” https://www.kentuckytoday.com/state/carbon-monoxide-precautions-urged/article_ac82a434-86d4-5ba6-8236-a8312c452f98.html
What we appear to have is a presumption that carbon monoxide safety guidelines will be followed without specific mandates required by legislation.
“State public health officials strongly encourage residents to follow these guidelines:
Make sure you have working CO detectors.” https://www.kentuckytoday.com/state/carbon-monoxide-precautions-urged/article_ac82a434-86d4-5ba6-8236-a8312c452f98.html
When Will it Be Enough to Cause Change?
Yet it appears that warnings from state public health officials are not enough to motivate those in the hospitality industry to voluntarily take the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning seriously. As a result we see continuing instances of hotel deaths, illnesses and evacuations across the country. Recently in Marysville, Ohio, fourteen were transported to hospitals due to carbon monoxide exposure, many of them children. In La Grange, KY we see the deaths of two individuals in their room who succumbed from what was undoubtedly carbon monoxide poisoning as the fire department utilized detectors on the scene and determined that an evacuation was in order. Details are yet to be released on the source of the carbon monoxide in La Grange but guests were allowed to return to their rooms within hours of the incident.
Marysville, Ohio Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
In the Marysville Ohio incident it was noted that a carbon monoxide detector was in place, however:
-The report from the state noted the detector was not functioning and when a new detector was placed in the room, “it alerted upon functional check.”-https://www.10tv.com/article/news/local/state-inspector-finds-blocked-fresh-air-intake-at-marysville-hotel-after-carbon-monoxide-emergency/530-5284604d-1213-4f2a-aa0a-32edefd71751
In spite of several irregularities at the scene in Marysville, the cause of the carbon monoxide leak was discovered to be a plastic bag blocking the fresh air intake to the pool heater in the equipment room housing the pool heater. The hotel manager had noted that the pool temperature appeared to be declining prior to the incident and they had been planning to rectify the problem by switching the spa heater with the pool heater.
Pools Continue to Be Big Source of CO
Adequate air for indoor pools is important for other reasons as well. Chlorine binds with water contaminants to produce harmful chloramines which are toxic to breathe and corrosive to the environment the pool is housed in. Unlike carbon monoxide, chloramines are heavier than air and tend to settle above the water’s surface which can impact everyone at pool level. Indoor pool areas must have adequate air flow to prevent health issues from chloramine build up.
Consider then that air flow is compromised by the presence of carbon monoxide due to the incomplete combustion in the pool heater due to a clogged air intake. It is very conceivable that the overwhelming smell of chlorine might have misled those in the pool area to believe that the symptoms experienced at the onset of carbon monoxide poisoning were due to the less urgent presence of poolside fumes from chloramines. Many complained of burning eyes and other irritation at the onset that day, common to a general build up of chloramines. It wasn’t until carbon monoxide had built up to a level to produce unconsciousness that the concern was raised and calls went out to 911. With that in mind, how was it that air intake in general was not examined prior to the incident? Falling pool temperatures in the time prior to the incident was already a condition for concern.
Sometimes pool temperatures are raised purposefully in order to accommodate the needs of the elderly and the very young in the belief that lower temperatures are not tolerated as well. However, pool equipment is meant to function at optimum temperatures in order to diminish the damage to those elements. The optimum temperature for an indoor pool is between around 80-82 degrees. This indicates that those operating an indoor pool have due diligence to monitor pool temperatures in order to rule out problems and ultimately avoid future problems and expenses, especially in the case of a fuel burning heating system which should be precise in maintaining a proper temperature range.
In the case of the Marysville pool, the state report also noted it had “a document from the Health Department indicating the pool area was closed on December 13, 2021. No authorization was obtained to begin using this area.” https://www.10tv.com/article/news/local/state-inspector-finds-blocked-fresh-air-intake-at-marysville-hotel-after-carbon-monoxide-emergency/530-5284604d-1213-4f2a-aa0a-32edefd71751
Most states comply with the CDC’s Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) which sets the guidelines for states to prevent drownings, injuries and the spread of germs at public swimming pools, hot tubs/spas and water parks. Hotel owners can be held responsible for incidents at pools if they failed to provide a safe environment for guests. https://hotelbusiness.com/pool-safety-for-hoteliers-how-to-reduce-liability/ We must then question how it is possible a plastic bag could have sent 14 people to the hospital when the management was already aware that the heating system was not operating correctly and plans had been made to replace it with another heater?
The inspection report which was filed two days after the incident clearly identified a plastic bag over the air intake in the equipment room. It was also noted that the carbon monoxide detector in place was not functioning. There was also a concern over blown fuses leading up to the incident. https://abc6onyourside.com/news/local/inspection-bag-covered-fresh-air-intake-marysville-hotel-after-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-2-7-2022
In a short period of time we see two separate hotels not meeting public expectations of public safety. In the La Grange, KY case we are awaiting official findings as to the cause but a lack of carbon monoxide detectors is an obvious issue. In the Marysville, OH case we see a bevy of concerns about pool maintenance punctuated by a non-functioning carbon monoxide detector.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Deaths
If anything positive can come out of these tragedies it should be a call to action for all states to recognize that any building which people inhabit, whether for a day or for an indeterminate period of time, should be protected by carbon monoxide detectors. Advisories by public health officials have not been adequate to motivate commercial entities to comply with this safety precaution.
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