N.C. bill: Require CO detectors in hotels

North Carolina hotels would be required to install carbon monoxide detectors near fuel-burning appliances, under a new legislative proposal that appears headed for approval.

The measure, tucked into a bill approved by a House committee Wednesday, comes a month after revelations that three Boone hotel guests died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“These were, in my opinion, needless deaths,” said Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, who persuaded legislative leaders to include the language in a regulatory reform bill. “When people come into our state or travel across our state and stay in hotels, we want them to feel their safety is assured.”

Officials have concluded that a carbon monoxide leak at the Best Western hotel in Boone caused the April 16 deaths of a Washington state couple, Daryl Dean Jenkins and Shirley Mae Jenkins, as well as the June 8 death of Jeffrey Lee Williams, an 11-year-old Rock Hill boy. Jeffrey’s mother, Jeannie, is recovering from serious injuries.

All four stayed in the same hotel room. Authorities believe the poisonous gas came from an improperly installed pool heater below their room.

The proposal would require that lodging establishments install carbon monoxide detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel burning heater, appliance or fireplace – and in every hotel room that shares a common wall, floor or ceiling with such spaces.

Carney said she expects little opposition. The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association helped craft the proposal.

“The safety and security of our guests is of paramount importance,” said association president Lynn Minges. “ I think it’s imperative to take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

The association recently sent emails to the governor, the state insurance commissioner and legislative leaders supporting the requirement.

‘Time is of the essence’

The proposal would direct the N.C. Building Code Council to adopt such rules. The council, which sets state building requirements, is scheduled to meet Sept. 9-10 in Raleigh.

Carney and other lawmakers had previously said they’d push for a study to determine whether hotels should be required to install carbon monoxide detectors. But Carney said she was pleased that she could advance a proposal for action instead.

“Time is of the essence,” she said. “We don’t want there to be another death or hospitalization due to carbon monoxide poisoning.”

North Carolina is among 27 states that require carbon monoxide alarms in new homes. Like most states, it does not mandate detectors in hotels.

But a growing number of states – including New Jersey, Michigan and Vermont – require many hotels to install such detectors.

Starting July 1, changes to South Carolina’s building code also require carbon monoxide detectors in many new and existing hotels that have fuel-fired appliances or attached garages. South Carolina followed the lead of the International Building Code, which last year imposed requirements for carbon monoxide alarms in hotels.

Like the other three states, South Carolina would not require the detectors in every room.

Some hotel chains also require their locations to install carbon monoxide detectors. La Quinta Inns & Suites says it requires the alarms in every location where there is a pool with gas-fired equipment. Marriott says it mandates the detectors wherever fuel-burning equipment is located within the hotel.

Todd Sommers, a spokesman for Best Western International, said the company has no carbon monoxide policy. Best Western “requires each hotel to comply with federal, state and local laws and standards, including those related to health and safety,” he said.

Each Best Western is individually owned and operated, Sommers said.

Widespread problem

Often called “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause severe illness or death in minutes. It’s emitted by cars and other fuel-burning machines and appliances.

Carbon monoxide has killed some 400 people in North Carolina since 2001, including 39 in Mecklenburg County, an Observer analysis of state death certificate data found. More than half of North Carolina’s carbon monoxide deaths were accidental, data show.

A state expert said many of those deaths were caused by generators, indoor grills and cars parked inside garages.

The Boone incidents weren’t the first in which North Carolina hotel guests were poisoned by carbon monoxide.

In early April, nine days before the Jenkinses died in Boone, two Charlotte residents staying at a Winston-Salem hotel suffered for hours before they were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning.

And in 2008, eight guests at a Super 8 Motel in Raleigh were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning after a water heater malfunctioned.

Before the recent deaths, at least eight hotel guests nationwide had died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the past three years, according to a January investigation by USA Today. More than 170 people have undergone treatment.

In Boone, a state licensing board continues to look into the source of the deadly gas leak. A police investigation into the Best Western, meanwhile, has expanded to two other hotels operated by the same management company.

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