Menendez Bipartisan Bill to Require CO Detectors in Federally-Subsidized Housing Unanimously Passes House

Menendez Bipartisan Bill to Require CO Detectors in Federally-Subsidized Housing Unanimously Passes House

Senator says GOP Leader McConnell should quickly bring CO ALERTS Act up for vote in Senate


WASHINGTON D.C. – A day after visiting the New Jersey Poison Control Center to discuss his bipartisan legislation to require carbon monoxide detectors in federally subsidized residences, U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, ranking member of the Senate housing subcommittee, applauded unanimous passage of the CO ALERTS Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and urged Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to swiftly move to protect families from CO poisoning.

“I’m thrilled about today’s unanimous passage by the House of our bipartisan CO ALERTS Act,” said Sen. Menendez. “No family should have to fear an invisible, silent killer when they’re supposed to be safe at home, no matter where they live, how much money they make, or whether they live in public housing or rural housing.  Majority Leader McConnell should quickly bring CO ALERTS up for a vote so we can get it over the finish line."

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 due to CO poisoning.  The New Jersey 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 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.

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.