On October 30, three American tourists were found dead in their Airbnb rental in Mexico City. The bodies of Kandace Florence and Jordan Marshall, both 28, and Courtez Hall, 33, were found in La Rosita, an upscale neighborhood near Santa Fe.
Unfortunately, the visitors had come to Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Marshall and Hall were teachers from New Orleans, while Candace Florence was a small business owner from Virginia Beach. Florence was talking to her boyfriend on October 30 and said she felt sick. The call dropped. The concerned friend called for a welfare check and authorities found the bodies.
The US State Department’s travel advisory for Mexico includes “heightened caution due to crime” in Mexico City. But the three friends who stayed at the Airbnb were not victims of criminal activity or drug overdoses. Instead, they reportedly died from “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide.
A spokesman for the local attorney general’s office told ABC News that investigators found a problem with the apartment’s gas boiler, which released a gas smell as well as carbon monoxide. One of the victims was apparently taking a shower, which would have activated the hot water boiler.
We have repeatedly contacted Airbnb for comment on the incident. We did not receive a response.
The recent tragedy in Mexico City is not the first time American tourists have died from gas poisoning.
In May, another group of three American tourists from Tennessee and Florida died of carbon monoxide poisoning while staying in villas at a Bahamas hotel, the Sandals resort. In 2018, an American couple from New Orleans, dedicated volunteers who were considering moving to Mexico, died of CO poisoning in an Airbnb in San Miguel Allende. Also in 2018, an Iowa family of four died at a Home Away/VRBO vacation rental in historic Tulum, Mexico. The cause was a gas leak.
Airbnb is clearly aware of such issues. The company’s Airbnb Trust & Safety website for hosts says: “All Airbnb hosts with an active listing can receive a free smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.”
The listing notes, “Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms save lives. That’s why we’re on a mission to get as many alerts on as many listings as possible. We ask that all listings be equipped with smoke alarms and with carbon monoxide alarms if the listings have fuel-burning appliances.”
However, as the Environmental Protection Agency puts it, “CO alarms are widely available and should be considered a backup BUT NOT A SUBSTITUTE for proper installation, use, and maintenance of fuel burning devices.”
Homes with fuel burning appliances or attached garages are more likely to have CO problems. Common sources of carbon monoxide include fuel-burning appliances such as clothes dryers, water heaters, boilers and furnaces. Fireplaces create carbon monoxide, which is usually vented through the chimney. Portable gas generators run indoors during the winter or during power outages have also led to CO poisoning, as have cars idling in the garage. People also use charcoal grills indoors with unpleasant consequences.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is called the silent killer because it is invisible, odorless and colorless. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “When people are exposed to CO gas, the CO molecules will displace oxygen in their bodies and lead to poisoning.”
Because CO cannot be detected by smell or sight, dangerous concentrations can build up indoors without people being able to detect the problem until they become ill. When people get sick, the symptoms of CO poisoning can be similar to those of the flu. This can lead to victims ignoring the problem until it is too late. Symptoms associated with CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and chest pain. High levels inhaled can cause unconsciousness and death.
The Centers for Disease Control says carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, leading to more than 430 deaths and 50,000 emergency room visits each year. Up to 40% of survivors of severe CO poisoning may develop memory impairment and other serious illnesses.
On a global basis, carbon monoxide poisoning is estimated to sicken 137 people and kill 4.6 people per one million population. With a world population of eight billion, this would mean that CO poisoning kills more than 36,000 each year. However, the researchers note “the unreliability of primary data sources in many countries regarding the accurate diagnosis of CO poisoning.”
Ironically, accidental CO poisonings are completely unnecessary. Carbon monoxide alarms (usually under $100) will detect a dangerous concentration of CO and alert residents. Then the problem, such as a gas leak, can be dealt with.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a well-known hazard, addressed by many US and local laws. However, only 27% of US homes have CO alarms.
Is Airbnb’s policy to “require” hosts to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors sufficient? Should it be mandatory, maybe with photo proof, or the host will be kicked off the platform? Or was USA Today right when it said, “It is now clear that the responsibility for security ultimately rests with the renter.”
Perhaps it is still too early to know what really happened in Mexico City. But Airbnb needs to conduct its own investigation. Did the property have a CO detector? If so, was it functional? If one was installed, were visitors informed of its presence? Did they know CO was a potential issue?
Ultimately, it may take an investigation and/or lawsuits in the US to determine responsibility for the deaths of these three young men.
The truth is, most people don’t think about CO poisoning at home, let alone when they’re traveling. Asking questions—and perhaps packing an inexpensive portable carbon monoxide detector—can help put the traveler at ease.