Families of 3 who died urge Airbnb to require carbon monoxide detectors

Airbnb offers free carbon monoxide detectors but only half its hosts have installed these life-saving devices. PHOTO: REUTERS

MEXICO CITY – A month after three friends who travelled to Mexico City died, apparently of carbon monoxide poisoning, in their Airbnb rental, their families are pleading with the company to require that hosts install carbon monoxide detectors.

Airbnb and VRBO, which have dealt with at least 10 carbon monoxide deaths in Brazil and Mexico over the past four years, urge hosts to install detectors near sleeping areas but do not require them.

Airbnb offers hosts free detectors. But in a 2018 study, public health researchers found that only 58 per cent of hosts said they have installed these detectors.

The three friends – Mr Jordan Marshall, 28, and Mr Courtez Hall, 33, both of New Orleans, and Ms Kandace Florence, 28, of Virginia Beach, Virginia – died on Oct 30 in an Airbnb rental unit in a high-rise building a day after they arrived in Mexico City to experience the Day of the Dead, or Día de Muertos, festival, according to Mr Marshall’s mother, Jennifer Marshall.

Just before she died, Ms Florence contacted her boyfriend to say she was not feeling well and had started vomiting, Mrs Marshall said. The Mexican authorities later confirmed that all three died of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a faulty water heater, according to Mr L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer who is representing the families.

Mr Marshall was a 12th grade English teacher, Mr Hall was a seventh grade social studies teacher, and Ms Florence ran a candle company called Glo Through It.

“It is unfortunate and it also infuriates us that we will never have the opportunity to talk to, to laugh with, or comfort our children, and that their lives could have been saved by a US$30 (S$41) carbon monoxide detector,” Mrs Marshall said on Wednesday at a news conference in New Orleans, where the parents of Ms Florence and Mr Hall held framed photos of their children.

Mrs Marshall said the parents have been emotionally shattered.

“Our kids will never be here; we can never bring them back,” she said in an interview. “But we just really want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other family because this is so easily preventable.”

Airbnb said in a statement on Wednesday that it suspended the listing where the friends stayed and cancelled upcoming reservations for the unit as it conducts an investigation. The company said it has been in touch with the host to provide support.

“This is a terrible tragedy, and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones as they grieve such an unimaginable loss,” Airbnb said. “Our priority right now is supporting those impacted as the authorities investigate what happened, and we stand ready to assist with their inquiries however we can.”

The company added that, starting in July, it updated its free global smoke and carbon monoxide detector programme to expedite shipments to hosts in Mexico. More than 200,000 hosts around the world have ordered detectors through the programme, the company said.

Mr Stewart said the families planned to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Airbnb, which he said would not be the first to involve carbon monoxide poisoning in one of the company’s rentals.

While the deaths have drawn attention to Airbnb, most resorts and hotels around the world do not place detectors in guest rooms, either, a fact that came into focus in May after a carbon monoxide leak killed three Americans at the luxurious Sandals Emerald Bay resort in the Bahamas.

Sandals announced after the tragedy that it would install carbon monoxide detectors in all its hotel rooms in the Caribbean.

Carbon monoxide, an odourless, colourless gas, is released from burning fuel such as gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood or charcoal. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.

Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. NYTIMES

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