Carbon Monoxide in Hotels

Carbon Monoxide in Hotels Often Results in Fatalities

Carbon monoxide in hotels is one of the most dangerous situations we encounter in our practice. When carbon monoxide happens when multiple people are awake, the contemporaneous onset of similar symptoms in more than one person at a time, may warn those being poisoned that something other than illness is involved. But when carbon monoxide strikes in the middle of the night, death is a stark reality. Even in those who survive, the carbon monoxide levels in the blood, COHb levels, may reach levels that permanent disability is likely. In some situations the onset of nausea and vomiting may awake the hotel guests, but since they do not suspect the nature of what is happening, they may try return to sleep.

How Does Carbon Monoxide in Hotels Happen?

When there is a carbon monoxide poisoning in a hotel, it is usually the result of one of three problems:

  • Problems with a hotel pool heater;
  • Problems a furnace that is within the guest room itself; and
  • Problems with the hot water boilers, used primarily for hot water in guest rooms and to do laundry.

Pool Heaters Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Hotels

Pool heaters seem to represent nearly half of the serious carbon monoxide poisonings that make the news. Normally, the pool heater is separate from the main HVAC for the rest of the hotel and is there just to heat the water in the pool. For numerous reasons, these heaters seem to get neglected more than the main HVAC in some hotels. The Boone NC hotel poisoning discussed below, was a pool heater event.

Furnaces Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Hotels

Most modern hotels don’t have furnaces in each room. Most of them have heat pumps, which look like air conditioners and are typically mounted on the outside wall of the hotel room. Heat pumps typically do not burn fuel but run on electricity. The wall mounted heat pumps may be the sole source of heat in most hotel rooms. Older hotels may have fuel burning space heaters, which are a major culprit in carbon monoxide poisonings in such properties. Any time a fuel burning appliance is obsolete, which most fuel burning space heaters are, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning goes up exponentially. For some reason, these obsolete space heaters are more of a problem in ski resort areas. The primary situation where you may see individual fuel burning forced air furnaces in a hotel room are low rise hotels where are of the rooms are suites, where each rooms is set up like a small apartment. One of the Brain Injury Law Group hotel cases involves just such a setup.

Boilers Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Hotels

Boilers tend to be much larger than furnaces, with BTU measured in millions instead of tens of thousands. Thus, anything that goes wrong with the combustion or exhausting of a boiler, can cause serious carbon monoxide poisoning. Boilers can be used to heat an entire hotel, as it was in the Days Inn hotel case that we handled more than five years ago. That Days Inn was an older hotel at the time, with a terribly obsolete exhaust system and poor intake for combustion air. Most brand name hotels will not use boilers to heat the rooms, but may use boilers to heat the common areas. The primary use of boilers in a modern hotel is to heat water for use in guest rooms and to do the hotel laundry, such as towels and sheets. When such large scale boilers are not properly maintained, they can leak carbon monoxide into the hotel at large. These boilers are almost always within locked mechanical rooms for the hotels, but the exhaust flues are usually vertical pipes or chimneys that run adjacent to guest rooms. Rooms that are adjacent to the runs for the exhaust flues for these boilers are clearly within the danger zone if something goes wrong.

Obstructions or blockage of these exhaust flues force exhaust gases to leak into adjacent spaces. While fire walls might obstruct a fire, they are rarely well enough sealed to keep carbon monoxide within the drywall chase that encases them. Further, such chase may not extend all the way to the roof of the hotel, allowing gases into attic spaces. Any opening in the drywall in upper floor rooms would allow for the carbon monoxide to leak into such rooms. Examples of drywall openings that may not appear obvious but are not air tight include areas around light fixtures, sprinkler heads and other wiring.

Our law firm has represented people poisoned carbon monoxide in hotels from leaks caused by some variation of each of these failures of maintenance, repair and replacement of fuel burning appliances.

Carbon Monoxide in Hotels is Deadly Because People Sleep There

One of the most tragic cases of carbon monoxide in hotels was the case in Boone, North Carolina where two people died in a room, but the cause of the deaths was not figured out until another person had died in the same room. Carbon monoxide detectors are absolutely essential in hotels. The good that came out of the Boone tragedy is that North Carolina set about requiring carbon monoxide detectors in hotels

Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Hotels are essential, especially as people can die in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The North Carolina law, like almost all other state laws which seek to warn carbon monoxide in hotels doesn’t go far enough. Requiring a carbon monoxide detector near the fuel burning appliances, might be more adequate in a home, although we still believe they must be where the people are. But in a carbon monoxide in hotels are the most dangerous in the middle of the night. In our considerable experience traveling around the United States, many times checking in late at night, there is only one person on duty in the hotel. That person is sitting at the front desk. The fuel burning appliances are no where near where that person is working. Most of the time they are below ground, in a fire proof room, usually made out of concrete block. While the concrete block is an important safety measure to stop the spread of fire that might start in those appliances, it will deaden the sound of an alarm. If there is only one carbon monoxide detector in a hotel, no one will be likely warned by that alarm going off in the middle of the night.

Risk of Carbon Monoxide in Hotels Requires Alarms Where People Sleep

Carbon monoxide detectors, to adequately warn of carbon monoxide in hotels, must be in every room, or at a minimum in every corridor. Carbon monoxide detectors must be where the people are, otherwise they will not be heard, and will provide no warning. The best practice would be for the fire warning system in hotels to be modified to include a building wide alarms, like the do for fires, if there ever the presence of carbon monoxide in hotels.