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.

A word to the wise for hotel owners: Why don’t you just install carbon monoxide detectors, whether the law requires you to or not?

In the latest incident involving a carbon monoxide leak at a hotel, on Wednesday more than 70 people had to be evacuated from a Virginia Beach, Va., hotel because of this deadly, odorless gas, according to

It all happened at the Homewood Suites on Cleveland Street, as guests and employees were sent to another local hotel when firefighters came to scene at 10 p.m.

They found high levels of carbon monoxide on a number of floors of the six-story hotel, and traced the leak to a natural gas heater on the building’s roof, reported. That heater warmed the hotel’s common areas.

Firefighters made sure that the gas was out of the hotel, a process that took about three hours, and the place was opened up again, according to

The local fire chief said that the Homewood Suites doesn’t have carbon monoxide detectors because they were not mandated by law when it was built, reported. Under the law, just buildings built since 2009 must install carbon monoxide alarms.

Hotel owner, if you want to save yourself some legal fees defending yourself from a lawsuit, put in the CO detectors. More on that in my next blog.



If the topic wasn’t so serious, the hospitality industry’s arguments about why there is no need for it to install carbon monoxide detectors in hotel rooms would be funny. But death isn’t a laughing matter.

The industry tried to justify its inaction in a well-researched story that USA Today just did on why hotel rooms should have alarms to detect the odorless, lethal gas. The newspaper tried to get a tally on how many guests have died, or had to be evacuated, due to carbon monoxide leaks at hotels. It did so by poring over media reports about such incidents, as well as talking to local fire chiefs.

USA Today confirmed what I already knew, namely that very few of the nation’s hotels have installed carbon monoxide detectors in guest rooms. Very few states or towns have laws requiring them to do so, so they don’t yet — more on that later.

In its research USA Today found that from 2010 to Nov. 8 this year, there were 30 incidents of officials finding high levels of carbon monoxide in hotels. Eight people died in those incidents and 170 were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, the paper reported.

An academic, professor of medicine Lindell Weaver at the University of Utah, did his own survey, for the period of 1989 through 2004, of carbon monoxide and hotels. That study found that there had been 68 carbon monoxide incidents, 27 deaths and 772 people who had suffered carbon monoxide poisoning, according to USA Today.

The paper cited several examples of lethal carbon monoxide poisoning in hotels, including an incident 2 years ago where five teens died in a Hialeah, Fla., hotel after they left their car running in its garage.

A hotel industry spokesman told USA Today said that carbon monoxide poisonings at hotels are rare, that guests have a better chance of being struck by lightning, so there is no need to install them and there should be no laws mandating that they be installed. Putting CO alarms in rooms would also cause the hospitality industry a bundle.

Weaver makes the same argument that I would make: That even though hotel fires are infrequent, hotel rooms have smoke detectors.

But the story had an interesting revelation, that the International Building Codes (IBC) and the International Fire Codes (IFC) now mandate that existing and new hotels put carbon monoxide detectors in guest rooms or in common areas.

According to one expert quoted in the USA Today story, “all states adopt the IBC, 44 states adopt the IFC, and cities and counties ‘typically’ adopt these codes.”

But that expert said that it takes a couple of years for states and counties to adopt them these standards. I guess that’s when we will finally have carbon monoxide detectors in hotel rooms.

But until then, hotel guests may die because the hospitality industry won’t do the right thing.



The Nevada Supreme Court will be reviewing a case stemming from an incident where four guests of a motel died of carbon monoxide poisoning, according to Courthouse News Service. They were killed at the Casino West Motel in Yerington, Nev., in 2006 when fatal fumes from a pool heater filtered into their rooms, whose airways were blocked.

Two questions stemming from an insurance dispute over the accident Friday were certified by the 9th Circuit to go to the high court, Courthouse News Service reported.

The survivors of the four people killed sued, but the motel’s insurer, Century Surety Co., said it was not liable under its policy’s “pollution and indoor-air-quality exclusions,” according to the news service.

Those exclusions deny coverage for accidental injury or death that results from “smoke, fumes, vapor or soot from equipment used to heat the building” and “toxic, hazardous, noxious, irritating, pathogenic or allergen qualities or characteristics of indoor air regardless of cause,” Courthouse News Service reported.

Century had gone to federal court in Reno seeking a ruling that it wasn’t bound to indemnify Casino West Motel in any wrongful-death litigation from the accident. The motel accused the insurer of bad faith, and the court ruled in its favor, according to Courthouse News Service.

That court at first prevented Century from going to the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit, but relented. On Friday, the appellate panel said it would not rule until the Nevada Supreme Court made a determination on Century’s policy exclusions.

In its order, quoted by the news service, the three-judge appeals panel said that Nevada, home of a huge hotel industry, has not “expressly decided the scope of the pollution exclusion.”

“Casino West contends that the fact that so many courts have reached different opinions conclusively establishes the exclusion as ambiguous,” the order states, according to Courthouse News Service.

“However, Casino West has not cited any Nevada cases so holding, and we have not found any on our own. Given the magnitude of the hotel industry in Nevada, we believe the question of the ambiguity of this standard insurance exclusion is one of exceptional importance to Nevada insurers and insureds.”

There are two questions of law that need to be answered: “Does the pollution exclusion in Century’s insurance policy exclude coverage of claims arising from carbon monoxide exposure?” and  “Does the indoor air quality exclusion in Century’s insurance policy exclude coverage of claims arising from carbon monoxide exposure?”

Courthouse News Service also provided this text from the 9th Circuit order.

“These questions are determinative in this case,” the order states. “If both exclusions are ambiguous, as the district court found, then Casino West’s claims would be covered by Century. However, if one or both of the exclusions is unambiguous, then the opposite result would occur and Century would have no duty to defend or indemnify Casino West with regard to the wrongful death suits.”

Laurie Pendergast is taking action to ensure that her brother’s death wasn’t in vain.

The Rhode Island woman is pushing for legislation across many states to mandate that hotels have carbon monoxide detectors, according to a story posted online by the TV station WPRI.

Pendergast’s brother, Bill Moran, earlier this year died of carbon monoxide poisoning at a Holiday Inn Express hotel in South Charleston, W. Va.

Moran’s death prompted West Virginia’s state Senate to quickly introduce a bill that makes it mandatory for hotels, motels, dorms and nursing homes to install carbon monoxide detectors, according to WPRI.

The bill was introduced roughly one month from the day when Moran died.

Pendergast told WPRI that she wants other states to pass a similar law, and that she plans to go to West Virginia to see its hotel carbon monoxide detector bill signed into law.