Despite new law, hotels slow to install CO detectors

Few hotels in the Charlotte area appear to be complying with a new state law requiring installation of carbon monoxide detectors.

In August, a new state law mandated that hotels and other lodging establishments install the detectors in every enclosed space with a fossil-fuel burning heater, appliance or fireplace and in every room that shares a wall, floor or ceiling with such spaces.

The legislature acted after the deaths of three people from carbon monoxide poisoning at the Best Western in Boone. The law took effect Oct. 1.

As of Dec. 4, the Mecklenburg County Health Department found that 21 of the 31 buildings it inspected had failed to install alarms or had faulty or malfunctioning ones, said Bill Hardister, environmental health director. County officials issued warnings giving the businesses 30 days to put in alarms.

“I was surprised,” Hardister said. “I really expected there would be a better attempt to comply with the law.”

Complying with the law isn’t difficult or costly: battery-operated or electric alarms cost less than $75. Lodging establishments aren’t required to connect alarms to their buildings’ electrical wiring until Oct. 1, 2014.

In some counties outside Mecklenburg, implementation of the law is going even slower. Officials in Union and Iredell counties said they haven’t performed checks because they are still training inspectors and figuring out enforcement.

Scott Carpenter, environmental health supervisor for Catawba County, said some health departments are unhappy they were assigned the inspections. They believe fire officials have more experience with detectors.

Some counties “are like, ‘What should we be doing?’ ” Carpenter said.

Ricky Diaz, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, said state administrators are creating “a question and answer document” to help departments enforce the law.

The N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association said it has been in “constant communication” with members about the new law and believes “most of them are in compliance.”

In Boone, the Appalachian District Health Department said inspectors are enforcing the new law during routine inspections. They are also checking for carbon monoxide alarms in any lodging establishment where they are investigating any other complaint, the statement said.

Effects of poisoning

The family of two of the victims had hoped the new law would be broader. “A law should be passed that all states are required to have carbon monoxide detectors in all their hotel rooms, regardless of how close they are to gas-emitting appliances,” said Patsye Watts, who was traveling with Daryl and Shirley Jenkins before they died.

Between 1989 and 2004, 772 people suffered carbon monoxide poisoning at hotels, motels and resorts, said Dr. Lindell Weaver of the University of Utah School of Medicine. Of those, 27 died.

Effects may not show up for months and could last a lifetime, Weaver said. “Heaven knows how many other people were exposed in Boone and didn’t die.”

Weaver, who has evaluated more than 1,000 people poisoned by carbon monoxide, takes his own detector to hotels. He says everyone should.