Economic Impact of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Totals Billions

I testified to the Economic Impact of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on March 8, 2017 in front of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Somewhere around 40% of those who suffer carbon monoxide poisoning are going to have permanent neuropsychiatric problems. Those with neuropsychiatric problems wind up with disability, even if it is not total. Neuropsychiatric problems that persist for more than a year are very likely to be permanent.

How do we measure the economic impact of carbon monoxide poisoning in dollars? We first start with estimating the number of people poisoned. According to the CDC, carbon monoxide is responsible for “15,000 emergency department visits and nearly 500 deaths annually in the United States” each year. See https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6030a2.htm

As carbon monoxide poisoning is seriously underreported, that likely means that the total number of those poisoned reaches above 50,000 annually. The Consumer Product Safety Commission uses estimates of roughly three times the number of reported cases as the actual number, see https://www.cpsc.gov/content/briefing-package-on-the-proposed-rule-safety-standard-for-portable-generators If 40% of that number has permanent neuropsychiatric symptoms, that means 20,000 people annually will have some disability.

We at the Brain Injury Law Group, S.C. are in the business of putting economic damages on those with permanent brain damage. The true carbon monoxide poisoning impact would include lost wages, future care needs and assistance with managing day to day life. While most of those who survive a carbon monoxide event are able to take care of their minimal ADL (Activities of Daily Living), in terms of managing the day to day challenges of life, most fall short.

Loss of Earning Capacity after Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If we assume that the average carbon monoxide poisoning survivor was making $50,000 a year, a 20 year total loss of earning capacity would equal a million dollars. But even in those who do not have a total loss, the loss of earning capacity in most cases will still approach a million dollars. The carbon monoxide poisoning survivor is likely to have a shortened work life expectancy. A 20 year old survivor might only work part time until (at half of the productivity that could have been expected) and then be expected to leave the work force (early retirement), 15 years ahead of normal. So that 15 times $50,000 is $750,000 which would be increased by the loss from the difference between part time and full time wages. Many of the 40% of the 50,000 annually will exceed $1 million loss of earning capacity. On average, $750,000 by 20,000 is conservative. Total annual lost wages for carbon monoxide poisoning = 15,000,000,000. That is $15 billion dollars.

Loss of Independence after Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The actual year to year medical bills for carbon monoxide would probably range in the $5 to $10,000. But that isn’t the total cost of care. Carbon monoxide, even more so than most permanent brain damage, impacts four domains: cognition, mood, behavior and physical/neurological functioning. Further, the worst deficits are often in the gray areas between these domains, particularly in executive functioning. Inability to plan, initiate, follow through, manage time, control emotions, all have serious impacts not just on employability, but ability to get along with family and friends. Relationships are almost always impacted by permanent brain damage. While many times the added care burden falls on the family of the carbon monoxide survivor, that doesn’t mean that there is no economic cost. And too many times that burden can’t be absorbed by family, as the destruction in relationships may mean that no family exists. If a permanent parent is not an option, then either the individual or society must bear that burden. In our experience, the life care needs of someone surviving brain damage equal or exceed the loss of earning capacity. Frankly, it costs more to care for the average person than the average person can earn, primarily because the needs can be so intense and there are more hours in the week, than there are in the work week. Unless institutionalized, one on one care is necessary.

If you assume the loss of independence equals the earning capacity loss, that would mean another $15 billion annually.

Total Economic Impact of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Equals more than $30 Billion

Total Economic Impact of Carbon Monoxide is more than 15 billion dollars. But that number only considers the economic impact, not the human cost. What is the real cost of loss of relationships, the despair at life so dynamically changed. Depression is a problem for all survivors. How do we put a number on that? In a court case, the jury would be asked to decide on pain and suffering. Clearly, the cost to our society as a whole has to be so devastating that we must do everything we can to stop it. Products must be made safer and carbon monoxide detectors, that warn at the first danger signs of carbon monoxide must be every where that humans breath inside air.