Every year, improper or damaged venting on gas pool or spa heaters results in carbon monoxide poisonings.
It happens in residential settings. Surprisingly often, it happens in commercial settings, like hotels and motels. Usually, it makes people sick. Sometimes, it results in death.
According to The Jenkins Foundation, which collects carbon monoxide poisoning data from media reports and other sources, the most recent poolheater- related hotel carbon monoxide incident occurred at the Hampton Inn and Suites at the San Antonio Riverwalk in Texas on February 24 of this year.
Reports of that incident state that fire department personnel responded around noon “for reports of a person down.” Upon arrival, they found several people with medical issues consistent with carbon monoxide poisoning. Testing revealed high levels of carbon monoxide, and the hotel was evacuated. The victims were all in the gym when they reported symptoms of CO poisoning. The pool heater was responsible.
The most recent likely pool-heaterrelated incident that resulted in death occurred in La Grange, Kentucky, in February of 2022. The victims were 40-year-old Stacey Barta and 39-yearold Paul Needy, who were staying at the Quality Inn Suites in La Grange.
According to the Jenkins foundation, from 1967 to today, there have been nearly 70 carbon monoxide poisoning incidents in hotels and motels related to pool and spa heaters. Pool or spa heaters at such venues have seriously sickened more than 920 hotel guests and killed nearly 20, and those numbers are hugely underestimated. Insufficient data pervades the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s because there is no nationwide database of information. Incredibly, no federal agency tracks carbon monoxide poisoning incidents in hotels.
These incidents don’t occur if the pool or spa heater is properly vented. That’s why it is essential that pool and spa heaters be inspected regularly by a trained pool service technician.
They can also be prevented by installing carbon monoxide sensors in pool equipment rooms in addition to hotel rooms. On this issue, there has been a lot of push-back from the hotel industry, which has lobbied that the incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning in hotels doesn’t justify the expense of carbon monoxide detectors. Regarding hotel carbon monoxide incidents in general, representatives of the hotel industry have been quoted as saying, “CO incidents are rare, so there’s no need for laws requiring hotels to have alarms. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being hit with CO poisoning” (USA Today, November 15, 2012).
But what data that does exist says otherwise. The Jenkins Foundation has discovered 2,505 injuries, and 161 deaths, by carbon monoxide, from any source, in hotels from 1967 to the present.
So why do these incidents continue to happen? They happen because many states do not require hotels to have such safeguards in place, and because there is no federal requirement mandating that hotel guests be protected from carbon monoxide exposure.
According to ncsl.org (National Fire Protection Agency), only 14 states in the U.S. require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors in hotels under statute. Most of these requirements apply only to newly constructed hotels, and most do not require detectors in all guest rooms.
When carbon monoxide poisonings happen in a place where a professional is in charge of maintaining the safe operation of pool and spa equipment, there’s often a lawsuit, and the service tech is often blamed.
If a pool service professional notices that a heater is not properly vented, the professional could certainly share in the liability if an incident occurs as a result. And that’s true even if the service tech didn’t install the heater in the first place. The incident detailed in this special issue of Service Industry News (content obtained by The Jenkins Foundation), details one family’s recent loss when a pool heater vented its deadly gas into a couple’s hotel room.