Why did three Americans die at Mexico City Airbnb?
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, visitors had come to Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Marshall and Hall were teachers from New Orleans, while Kandace Florence was a small business owner from Virginia Beach. Florence was talking to her boyfriend on October 30 and said she was not feeling well. The call was interrupted. The worried boyfriend asked for a social check and the authorities found the bodies.
US State Department travel advisory for Mexico include “exercise extra caution due to crime” in Mexico City. But the three friends staying at the Airbnb were not victims of criminal activity or a drug overdose. Instead, they would be dead of the “silent killer”, carbon monoxide.
A spokesperson for the local attorney general’s office Told ABC News that investigators found a problem with the apartment’s gas boiler, which smelled of gas as well as carbon monoxide. One of the victims was apparently taking a shower, which would have activated the boiler for hot water.
I contacted Airbnb several times to seek comment on the incident. I did not receive any answer.
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 resort in the Bahamas, the Sandals resort. In 2018, an American couple from New Orleans, dedicated volunteers planning to move 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 these issues. From the company Airbnb Trust and Safety The host website states, “All Airbnb hosts with an active listing can get a free smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.”
The list notes: “Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms save lives. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to put as many alarms in as many announcements as possible. We ask that all listings be equipped with smoke alarms and fitted with carbon monoxide alarms if the listings have combustion appliances.
However, as the Environmental Protection Agency says, “CO alarms are widely available and should be considered a BACK-UP BUT NOT A REPLACEMENT for proper installation, use, and maintenance of fuel-burning appliances.”
Dwellings with combustion appliances or attached garages are more likely to have CO problems. Common sources of carbon monoxide include combustion appliances such as clothes dryers, water heaters, boilers and furnaces. Fireplaces create carbon monoxide, which is usually vented through the chimney. Portable gasoline generators used indoors during the winter or during power outages have also resulted in CO poisoning, as have cars left idling in the garage. People also use charcoal grills indoors with unfortunate 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 displace oxygen in their bodies and lead to poisoning.”
Because CO cannot be detected by smell or vision, 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 the flu. This can cause victims to ignore the problem until it’s too late. Symptoms associated with CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and chest pain. High levels of inhalation can cause unconsciousness and death.
the Center for Disease Control says carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, resulting in 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.
Globally, carbon monoxide poisoning is valued sicken 137 people and kill 4.6 people per million. With a world population of eight billion, that would mean that CO poisoning kills more than 36,000 people every year. However, the researchers note “the unreliability of primary data sources in many countries for the accurate diagnosis of CO poisoning.”
Ironically, accidental CO poisonings are totally unnecessary. Carbon monoxide alarms (usually less than $100) will detect a dangerous concentration of CO and alert residents. Then the problem, such as a gas leak, can be solved.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a well-known danger, addressed by many US and local laws. Yet only 27% of American households have CO alarms.
Is Airbnb’s policy of “requiring” hosts to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors sufficient? Should they be mandatory, perhaps with photographic proof, or will the host be kicked off the platform? Or was USA Today right to saying“It is now becoming clear that the responsibility for security ultimately rests with the tenant.”
It may still be too early to know what really happened in Mexico City. But Airbnb must conduct its own investigation. Did the property have a CO detector? If so, was it functional? If one was installed, were guests notified of its presence? Did they know that CO was a potential problem?
Ultimately, it may take a U.S. investigation and/or legal action to determine responsibility for the deaths of these three young people.
The truth is that most people don’t think about CO poisoning at home, let alone when traveling. Ask questions – and maybe pack a good deal portable carbon monoxide detector—can contribute to the peace of mind of the traveler.