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Hotels Treat Carbon Monoxide Alarms With Disdain


SALT LAKE CITY -- Few hotels, motels, and resorts have installed carbon monoxide detectors despite nearly 800 cases of poisonings over 15 years, according to researchers here.

SALT LAKE CITY, June 6 -- Few hotels, motels, and resorts have installed carbon monoxide detectors despite nearly 800 cases of poisonings over 15 years, according to researchers here.

Over the 15 years, the number of reported incidents of poisoning per year has not decreased," reported Lindell Weaver, M.D., and Kayla Deru of the hyperbaric medicine department at LDS Hospital, in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Unlike hotel fires, which are usually highly publicized, carbon monoxide poisoning has not caught the attention of lawmakers, so detectors are not mandated in hotels rooms, the researchers said.

The current analysis was sparked by clinical experience at the hyperbaric facility at LDS Hospital, where 21 patients with carbon monoxide poisoning related to hotels and motels were treated from 1989 through 2004.

To determine the scope of the problem, the researchers combed through legal databases and online news databanks. They excluded cases of intentional poisoning, those arising from guests cooking or using a flame source indoors, victims of smoke inhalation from fires, and those who were not taken to hospital.

All told, over the 15 years, there were 68 incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning, in which 711 guests, 41 employees or owners, and 20 rescue personnel were poisoned, the researchers found.

Pointedly, six of the 21 patients treated here never made the news or the legal databases, suggesting that the total number is conservative.

Among those poisoned, 27 died, 66 had confirmed sequelae, and six had sequelae resulting in a jury verdict. Jury awards ranged from million to .5 million, with an average award of .8 million per incident.

To see what the industry response was, the researchers telephoned hotels and motels, including both those involved in incidents and those that had not had a problem.

The researchers were able to reach 43 of the 68 sites where poisoning occurred (no phone number was available for the remaining 25) and found that only five (12%) had since installed carbon monoxide detectors in the guest rooms.

Of 101 chain hotels and motels where there had been no incidents, 11 (11%) reported detectors in guest rooms, and two wouldn't say.

"Despite evidence of efficacy, (carbon monoxide) alarms have not been installed widely by the lodging industry, even at properties where guests and employees have been injured" by the gas, the researchers said.

The authors pointed out that "guests at hotels, motels, and resorts can be protected from carbon monoxide poisoning by installing a carbon monoxide alarm in every guest room, like the installation of smoke alarms. There are 4.4 million guest rooms in the U.S., and the cost to install carbon monoxide alarms in every guest room could exceed million ( to per alarm)."

The researchers recommend as an alternative that detectors be placed anywhere the gas can be produced, including rooms with such facilities as fireplaces, as well as in adjacent rooms, because the gas can easily spread through ventilation systems.

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