June 6, 2007 Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills over 200 people every year in the United States. Although inexpensive CO detectors have been available since 1989, their use in hotels, motels and resorts is not widespread. In fact, while every guest room in the U.S. must contain a smoke detector, there is no federal mandate for CO detectors. In a study published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from LDS Hospital report on the incidence and impact of CO poisoning of hotel guests.
Using data collected at the LDS Hospital Hyperbaric Medicine Department and searches of legal databases and online news databanks, the researchers found 68 incidents of CO poisoning occurring at hotels, motels, and resorts between 1989 and 2004. In these incidents, 711 guests, 41 employees or owners and 20 rescue personnel were accidentally poisoned. Of those poisoned, 27 died, 66 developed pathological conditions, and 6 had conditions resulting in a jury verdict. Jury verdicts have averaged $4.8 million per incident (range=$1 million-17.5 million). Poisoning occurred at hotels of all classes.
According to Lindell K. Weaver, MD, medical director of the LDS Hospital Hyperbaric Medicine Center and Professor of Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, "The number of reported incidents of poisoning per year has not decreased over this 15-year interval...While the risk of CO poisoning from a one-night stay to an individual guest is small, the accumulated lifetime risk to individuals who travel frequently would be higher. This risk could approach zero with effective CO prevention measures."
The authors contacted 43 sites where CO poisonings had occurred and found that only 12% had installed CO detectors after the incidents. In 101 sites where no CO poisoning had occurred, only 11 % had installed CO detectors in guest rooms.
Dr Weaver continues, "Despite evidence of efficacy, CO alarms have not been installed widely by the lodging industry, even at properties where guests and employees have been injured by CO. No official statement from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) was found pertinent to CO poisoning prevention, although the AH&LA educational foundation contracted with Schirmer Engineering (Deerfield, Illinois) to study CO risk in that industry. The AH&LA study made no specific recommendations regarding prevention of CO poisoning to guests, and concluded, 'AH&LA will continue to monitor industry-related carbon monoxide issues.' Until CO alarms are installed in hotels, motels, and resorts, guests should consider carrying a CO alarm when they travel."
The article is "Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at Motels, Hotels, and Resorts" by Lindell K. Weaver, MD, and Kayla Deru, BA. It appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 32, Issue 7 (July 2007) published by Elsevier.
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