The recent deaths of six Americans from carbon monoxide poisoning in two separate incidents is putting a spotlight on the risks of staying in a rental home or hotel that might not have the appropriate safety measures in place.
Three guests staying at an apartment in Mexico City booked through Airbnb are believed to have died by carbon monoxide poisoning last month, Bloomberg reported. And another group of American tourists in May at a Sandals Resort in the Bahamas.
A spokesperson for Sandals Resorts confirmed to CBS MoneyWatch that Sandals currently has carbon monoxide detectors in all rooms across its facilities.
Airbnb, for its part, is offering hosts free carbon monoxide detectors for units that don’t already have the devices installed. They typically cost between $30 and $50. Digital, low-level detectors can cost around $100.
What to know before you travel
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced any time a fossil fuel is burned. Accidental poisoning can occur when home appliances and systems like furnaces, kerosene heaters, stoves, lanterns and generators produce fumes that people breathe in.
Symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, chest pain and confusion, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 400 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning each year, and another 50,000 people visit the emergency department with carbon monoxide poisoning.
The good news is that while it can be fatal, CO poisoning is entirely preventable.
Every apartment or dwelling unit should be equipped with at least one CO detector, which should be tested every six months. For extra safety, it’s advisable to have a back-up detector in case one device’s batteries die, according to the CDC.
Airbnb is encouraging all of its hosts who don’t already have carbon monoxide detectors to install them in their rental units. However, the apartment sharing company doesn’t require that units be equipped with detectors.
Owners of listings for units that have detectors installed can indicate that by checking a box in the “safety devices” section of the listing. Listings also clearly indicate which units are not equipped with smoke or carbon monoxide alarms. This information is reiterated in emails to guests before their stays.
Guests leery of units without CO monitors can also check to see if the rental quarters have any fuel burning devices.
Do hotel rooms have CO detectors?
It’s wise to assume that your hotel room does not have a CO detector in place, according to advocates who urge people to pack their own battery-powered or plug-in devices when traveling, noting that regulations vary.
Dr. Andrew Moffat, a hyperbaric specialist at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah, said since he and his family were almost poisoned by carbon monoxide, he always travels with a portable detector.
He added that even survivors of CO poisoning can suffer debilitating long-term effects like chronic anxiety and cognitive issues, and that many detectors don’t go off until CO levels are so elevated that they damage the brain.
“I bring my own carbon monoxide monitor with me everywhere I stay,” he told CBS MoneyWatch. “The best ones are low-level digital monitors that are generally good to have in your home.”
If the alarm does sound, exit the dwelling immediately, and call the gas company and fire department. They can identify the source of the carbon monoxide, he said.
More transparency needed
Kris Hauschildt, whose parents died from CO poisoning in 2013 while traveling within the U.S., laments that there aren’t more universal regulations in place to protect people while at home and abroad.
Hauschildt founded the Jenkins Foundation to raise awareness around safety measures and track CO poisoning incidents across the U.S. Between January 2011 and March 2022, 165 carbon monoxide poisoning incidents took place in hotels, many stemming from water heater, boiler and pool heater issues, according to data from the group. Eleven of the incidents involved 15 deaths.
She applauds Airbnb for being transparent about its units’ safety features, noting that it’s more difficult to determine if a hotel room is equipped with a detector.
“There is no way to be able to look that up and say let’s make sure there is a requirement for CO detectors in that area,” she told CBS MoneyWatch. “Assume the appropriate safety measures are not in place, because there is no way to know for sure.”
Hauschildt also recommends that everyone travel with their own alarms. “That’s the best way to stay safe.”