Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your Hotel Room: Are You At Risk?

A bed in a hotel room does not have to be your deathbed — but if you find yourself starting to feel ill while inside of one, err on the side of caution and leave the room immediately, as the cause could be carbon monoxide. Photograph by FlyerTalk member FindAWay. So as not to imply any negativity on the hotel in which this room is located, there is intentionally no link to any trip report.

Three guests died in the same room within three months at a hotel property in Boone, North Carolina as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning — resulting in the charging of the business executive managing the hotel property with involuntary manslaughter.

This leads to the question: what are your chances of becoming ill — or even dying — from carbon monoxide poisoning in your hotel room?

According to an article written by Gary Stoller and published in USA TODAY, there were at least 30 reports of high levels of carbon monoxide in hotel properties within the past three years — resulting in the evacuation of greater than 1,300 people from hotel properties…

…and those statistics are only what has been reported, as it is obviously unclear how many times hotel guests who may have suffered the effects caused by high levels of carbon monoxide but not realized the source of the perceived illness. People who suffer the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning can mistake the symptoms for another malady — such as the flu, for example.

According to WebMD, the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

 

As carbon monoxide builds up in your blood, symptoms get worse and may include:

  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Fast breathing, fast heartbeat, or chest pain
  • Vision problems
  • Seizures

 

If you have symptoms that you believe could be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Leave the area right away — in this case, your hotel room — and
  • Call 911 or go to the emergency room at the nearest hospital

 

If you keep breathing the fumes, you may pass out and die. The problem is that carbon monoxide is also known as the “silent killer”, as you cannot see, smell or taste carbon monoxide — which means you will most likely not realize that you are even breathing it inside of you. This accentuates the importance of recognizing the symptoms listed above as soon as possible, as saving even precious seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur suddenly; or it can occur over an extended period of time, depending on the amount of carbon monoxide which may be present in the area. Breathing low levels of carbon monoxide over a long period can cause severe heart problems and brain damage. You are advised by WebMD to see a doctor if:

  • You often are short of breath and have mild nausea and headaches when you are indoors
  • You feel better when you leave the building and worse when you return
  • Other people you work or live with have the same symptoms you do

 

FlyerTalk members have discussed carbon monoxide poisoning in hotel properties in the past, which includes the following examples of discussions:

 

As you can see, there are very few discussions posted on FlyerTalk pertaining to high levels of carbon monoxide present inside of hotel properties. That is because various statistics seem to suggest that the number is fewer than ten over a period of as many as three years.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, greater than 150 people die each year in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning associated with consumer products — including faulty, improperly-used or incorrectly-vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters and fireplaces — and unrelated to fire as the cause. It is unknown to me as to exactly how many of those 150 people died while staying at a hotel property.

In other words, this is not exactly a problem of epidemic proportions — especially when considering the number of hotel rooms located within the United States alone, estimated to be close to five million — meaning that the chances of you being sickened or killed by carbon monoxide poisoning are minimal at best…

…but not completely impossible, either. However, that is of no comfort or solace to the families of the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning in the aforementioned case at the Best Western Blue Ridge Plaza hotel property in Boone.

The typical source of carbon monoxide in hotel properties is from a heating unit — whether it is in the form of a boiler or a device used to heat up a swimming pool. A malfunction of such units — not always obvious or easily detected upon initial inspection — can cause levels of carbon monoxide to increase, which means that the risk of you becoming sick is greater.

Carbon monoxide from the swimming pool water heater — which purportedly had not been inspected since 2000, when the hotel property was built — allegedly seeped up from a corroded exhaust pipe into room 225 at that Best Western hotel property, killing an elderly couple and a boy eleven years of age. The deaths occurred within three months of each other.

Now up for debate is why are smoke detectors mandatory equipment in hotel rooms — but carbon monoxide detectors are not required?

You may have already guessed the answer: money. Installation of carbon monoxide smoke detectors could cost the lodging industry as much as $250 million — an exorbitant cost to minimize a risk which is already considered minimal at best…

…but can the same be said about the “water ditching” of aircraft? I understand from a source at Delta Air Lines that the risk of being involved in a “water ditching” — when an airplane must land in water as the result of an emergency, such as in this now famous incident involving an aircraft operated by US Airways which landed safely in the Hudson River west of Manhattan in January of 2009 — is even less than being affected by carbon monoxide poisoning in a hotel property; and yet airlines spend significant amounts of money to continually train pilots and flight attendants on what to do in the unlikely event of a “water ditching.”

Yes, I do realize that I could be comparing apples to oranges, so to speak — but I only raise that point to ask whether or not you believe that hotel properties should be required to install carbon monoxide detectors in hotel rooms for the added safety of guests despite the cost.

Meanwhile — in addition to following the advice offered by WebMD — you may also want to consider carrying a portable device which is capable of detecting carbon monoxide for peace of mind whenever you travel. They can vary greatly in cost, size and weight; and they can obviously be used in places other than hotel rooms.

Have you ever experienced carbon monoxide poisoning in a hotel room; or do you know of someone who has? Do you believe that hotel rooms should be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors?

In the meantime, here are videos aired by 20/20 — a program of ABC News — about the deaths in Boone, divided into part one and part two:

If you do not see the videos above, you may need to refresh your browser or click on the links.

Comments (Showing 3 of 3)

  • ddjen11 at 12:48pm February 08, 2014

    This is disheartening, any travel co detector available?

  • dhuey at 5:22pm February 09, 2014

    If your brain is wired to focus on any risk, however slight, then it’s a good use of your time to worry about CO poisoning in hotel rooms.

  • gum at 2:56am February 10, 2014

    Thanks for this interesting article, Brian!

    I am convinced that there is an even more annoying problem in climatization/heating of hotels. This doesn’t cost lives but the joy of a holiday or the effectiveness of a business travel.

    If the air conidition of a hotel is completely switched off or reduced in operation due to a nickel nurser in the hotel management who thinks: Noone will care in the mid of the night.

    Then the roomm gets extremely hot or cold within a short period of time and all the luyurs of the hotel is gone: You have to open the windows in order not to be asphyxiated.

    The solution is not the legal requirement for more and more gas/fire detectors but a management keeping the eyes open.

    And accepting that a four/five star hotels generates an extremely high revenue. But on the other hand has some costs attached which can’t be avoided by the nickel nurser.

    Like air condition, thick towels and a normal size of the juice glasses during the breakfast….

    Therefore this is a plea for all in the hotel industry to treat their customers with fairness and deliver a seemingless experience.

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