The Sandals Emerald Bay resort experienced a carbon monoxide leak that resulted in three deaths last year. These deaths could have been avoided, had the resort installed carbon monoxide detectors. Public outcry due to the negligence behind the deaths has sparked a conversation about the gas, with many wondering why hotels don’t install detectors as standard in their rooms.
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas that has killed over 1000 people in the past 20 years in the U.S. – in hotel rooms alone. But because public reports surrounding carbon monoxide deaths are seldom made, that number is likely much higher. The gas is emitted when fuel sources like kerosene or propane burn. Boilers or heaters are the biggest culprits of hotel leaks, but gas dryers and fireplaces could also release carbon monoxide.
Smoke alarms are commonly found in American hotel rooms, however, many states do not currently mandate the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in these rooms. As a result, many health professionals and lawmakers are calling for stricter regulations, given the increasing number of casualties caused by carbon monoxide leaks in hotels. Shockingly, investigations into these incidents have revealed that there were no working detectors on-site in almost every situation.
The hotel industry claims that placing one in every room would be too costly, but you can purchase an effective detector for roughly $30. And in 2015, the lodging industry went so far as to lobby to remove a requirement to have carbon monoxide monitors in common areas. Airbnb and similar services have been in the news due to carbon monoxide-related deaths. Although it is strongly recommended for hosts to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in sleeping areas, it is not a requirement. According to a 2018 study, only 58 percent of Airbnb hosts have one installed.
The lodging industry argues that carbon monoxide incidents don’t happen frequently enough to warrant the expense of installing detectors throughout the hotel. Instead, they prefer to focus on installing detectors near devices that could emit the dangerous gas and ensure that those devices receive proper maintenance. However, some people argue that such isolated incidents are still a cause for concern, especially with the growing conversation surrounding the illness and death caused by carbon monoxide. Although the International Fire Code no longer requires hotels to install carbon monoxide detectors, it still suggests that hotels install them close to fuel-burning devices.
The lodging association encourages this practice, but like Airbnb, it does not attempt to enforce it. But recently, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts made a statement saying each hotel is required to abide by local laws.
Shortly after the announcement, a hotel installed new fire alarm arms that doubled as carbon monoxide detectors. The detectors cost $31.99 each. That hotel then had a carbon monoxide leak from their new pool heater; the vent was angled so that carbon monoxide was seeping in through a guest’s open window. The detectors caught it, and a possible crisis was averted.
The excuses and explanations lodging professionals and lobbyists continue to feed the public aren’t satiating. The open claims that life-saving alarms aren’t worth the price tag are borderline offensive to some. But whether this is a fundamental system failure or a series of unfortunate events is all in the eyes of the beholder.
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Written for Passport Health by CJ Darnieder. CJ is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago. He is an avid lover of classical music and stand-up comedy and loves to write both in his spare time.