Menendez Bill Protects Residents from ‘Silent Killer,’ Requires CO Detectors in Federally-Subsidized

Menendez Bill Protects Residents from ‘Silent Killer,’ Requires CO Detectors in Federally-Subsidized

Hundreds die, thousands sickened each year from carbon monoxide poisoning

   

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate’s housing subcommittee, visited the N.J. Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJPIES) in Newark today to outline bipartisan legislation to protect families living in public and rural housing from the “silent killer” by requiring carbon monoxide (CO) detectors be installed in federally subsidized residences.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CO poisoning is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States. On average, 450 people die and over 50,000 are treated in emergency rooms nationally each year CO poisoning.

“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,” said Sen. Menendez.  “Our bipartisan CO ALERTS Act provides a targeted, sensible path forward to reduce entirely preventable carbon monoxide deaths.  In New Jersey alone, more than 300,000 people who live in HUD-assisted housing would gain federal protection from carbon monoxide poisoning if this legislation became law.  Carbon monoxide deaths are completely preventable and in the 21st century, there’s simply no excuse for it.”

The Carbon Monoxide Alarms Leading Every Resident to Safety—or CO ALERTS—Act is co-led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and ensures families living in federally assisted housing are safe from carbon monoxide poisoning by requiring:

  • Carbon monoxide alarms in units that have potential carbon monoxide sources like gas-fired appliances, fireplaces, forced air furnaces, and attached garages;
  • Carbon monoxide alarms in rural housing, managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA);
  • HUD provide guidance to public housing agencies on how to educate tenants on health hazards in the home, including carbon monoxide poisoning and lead poisoning; and
  • HUD, in consultation with the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), conduct a public study on requiring carbon monoxide alarms in housing not covered by the IFC.

The state’s N.J. Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School handles approximately 300 carbon monoxide exposures a year, some of which are serious or fatal.

"The best defense against carbon monoxide, which makes no noise, has no smell, and can’t be seen – is a working carbon monoxide detector.  Pure and simple, detectors save lives - and provide the first, and often only, line of defense.  The CO Alerts Act is an exciting and important step in getting carbon monoxide detectors into all federally-assisted housing," said Dr. Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the N.J. Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJPIES).  "Although required in New Jersey, this moves us closer to this important safety measure being implemented nationwide.  It is our sincerest hope that this will pave the way for working carbon monoxide detectors in every home, so that we can eradicate this hazard once and for all."

While New Jersey is one of 27 states that require carbon monoxide alarms in private dwellings and one of just 14 states to require alarms in hotels and motels, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) still does not require nor inspect for carbon monoxide alarms in HUD-assisted units, which includes both public housing and private landlords receiving Section 8 vouchers.  The lack of CO detector requirements at the federal level still leaves residents vulnerable.

Known as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and nonirritating gas that is produced through the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing substances, according to the CDC.  Symptoms of poisoning are generally non-specific and commonly include headache, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.  Large exposures can result in loss of consciousness, arrhythmias, seizures, or death.  Since 2003, 14 public housing residents have died from carbon monoxide poisoning—including four in 2019.

In March, Sens. Menendez and Scott urged HUD Secretary Ben Carson to take action to address carbon monoxide concerns in public housing following the tragic deaths of two South Carolina residents.  In response, HUD issued a notice to all HUD and HUD-contracted inspectors requiring them to collect data to determine the prevalence of CO detection systems in HUD-assisted properties, and announced that the agency would provide $5 million in grants to install carbon monoxide alarms in public housing. 

“It’s enough to have an affordable home, but the health and safety conditions inside that home is critical,“ said Arnold Cohen, senior policy advisor at the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.  “Carbon monoxide detectors in all homes that are federally-assisted should be mandatory, and should be considered a life-threatening situation if carbon monoxide monitors are not there.  It’s not enough just to collect information, HUD needs to require this, and because HUD is not requiring CO detectors is why we’re here today with Senator Menendez to call on Congress to take legislative action to make sure this is happening.”   

Text of CO ALERTS can be found here.

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