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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Deaths Lead to Bill Requiring Detectors in Public Housing

New legislation would require all public and rural housing in the United States to include carbon monoxide detectors, as part of an effort to prevent unnecessary poisonings and deaths.

Senators Tim Scott, of South Carolina, and Robert Menendez, of New Jersey, introduced the Carbon Monoxide Alarms Leading Every Resident To Safety (CO ALERTS) Act (PDF) on Thursday, which calls for all federally-assisted housing units to contain carbon monoxide detectors. Owners of such housing units would be required to install them, and public housing agencies would be required to verify they are present and functional.

According to a press release, the legislation is supported by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. The gas is often referred to as the “silent killer,” since it is difficult to detect without the use of a properly functioning detector or alarm, and is a leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States.

Due to the inability to detect the gas without the use of a carbon monoxide detector, individuals may be exposed to low levels of the gas over a long period of time, potentially resulting in severe injury or permanent brain damage from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The initial symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure may cause feelings of nausea, headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, and shortness of breath, whereas prolonged exposure may result in mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle coordination or control, loss of consciousness, and ultimately death. It is common for individuals to mistake the initial symptoms of CO exposure for the flu, often times prolonging treatment and causing increased adverse health effects.

“No family should have to fear an invisible, silent killer when they’re supposed to be safe at home. All Americans deserve protection from carbon monoxide, no matter where they live, how much money they make, or whether they live in public or rural housing,” Senator Menendez said in the press release. “Our CO ALERTS Act provides a targeted, sensible path forward to reduce entirely preventable carbon monoxide deaths.”

Federal health officials indicate that nearly 500 people die every year in the U.S. due to carbon monoxide poisoning, which causes about 20,000 emergency room visits each year.

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