On October 30, three American tourists were found dead at 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 close to Santa Fe.
Sadly, the visitors had come to Mexico City to celebrate the Day of the Dead. Marshall and Hall were New Orleans teachers, while Kandace Florence was a small business owner from Virginia Beach. Florence was speaking to her boyfriend on October 30, and said she felt unwell. The call dropped. The worried boyfriend called for a welfare check, and authorities found the bodies.
U.S. State Department travel advisories for Mexico include “exercise increased caution due to crime” in Mexico City. But the three friends staying at the Airbnb were not the victims of criminal activity or a drug overdose. Instead, they reportedly died from “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide.
A spokesperson for the local attorney general’s office told ABC News that investigators found an issue with the apartment’s gas boiler, which released a gas smell as well as carbon monoxide. One of the victims had apparently been taking a shower, which would have activated the boiler for hot water.
We contacted Airbnb repeatedly asking for comment on the incident. We did not receive a response.
The recent tragedy in Mexico City is not the first time US 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 considering moving to Mexico, died of CO poisoning at 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 get a free smoke & 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 alarms into as many listings as possible. We ask that all listings be equipped with smoke alarms and equipped with carbon monoxide alarms if the listings have fuel burning devices.”
However, as the Environmental Protection Agency puts it, “CO alarms are widely available and should be considered a back-up to BUT NOT A REPLACEMENT for proper installation, use, and maintenance of fuel-burning appliances.”
Dwellings with fuel-burning appliances or attached garages are more likely to have CO problems. Common sources of carbon monoxide include fuel-burning appliances like clothes dryers, water heaters, boilers, and furnaces. Fireplaces create carbon monoxide, usually vented through the chimney. Portable gas-powered generators operated indoors during the winter or during power outages have also led to CO poisonings, 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 will displace the oxygen in their bodies and lead to poisoning.”
Because CO can’t 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 do become sick, CO poisoning symptoms can be similar to those of the flu. This can lead 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 a loss of consciousness and death.
The Center for Disease Control says carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America, leading to over 430 deaths and 50,000 emergency department visits each year. Up to 40% of survivors of severe CO poisoning can develop memory impairment and other serious illnesses.
On a worldwide 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, that would mean CO poisoning kills more than 36,000 each year. However, researchers note “the unreliability of the primary data sources in many countries with respect to accurate diagnosis of CO poisoning.”
Ironically, accidental CO poisonings are entirely unnecessary. Carbon monoxide alarms (typically under $100) will detect a dangerous CO concentration and alert the residents. Then the problem, such as a gas leak, can be addressed.
Carbon monoxide poisoning poses a well-known danger, addressed by many U.S. state and local laws. Yet only 27% of U.S. homes have CO alarms.
Is Airbnb’s policy of “asking” that hosts install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors sufficient? Should they be mandatory, perhaps with photographic proof, or the host will be kicked off the platform? Or was USA Today correct in saying, “It’s now becoming clear that responsibility for safety ultimately falls on the renter.”
It may still be 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 the guests made aware of its presence? Did they know CO was a potential issue?
Ultimately, it may take a U.S. investigation and/or lawsuits to determine responsibility for the death of these three young people.
The truth is that most people don’t think about CO poisoning at home, let alone when traveling. Asking questions—and perhaps packing an inexpensive portable carbon monoxide detector—may help the traveler’s peace of mind.