Along with having smoke detectors in homes, it is also recommended all homes have working carbon monoxide detectors. Since the gas is colorless, tasteless, and odorless, having a detector installed is often the only way dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can be detected. However, after a recent scare at a public housing site in South Carolina, it was discovered that despite many deaths and injuries that had occurred due to carbon monoxide poisoning, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does not require carbon monoxide detectors be installed in its buildings.
After a recent emergency at the Allen Benedict Court public housing complex, federal health and fire inspectors discovered high levels of carbon monoxide in many apartments. In fact, all 26 buildings of the complex were found to have dangerous levels, along with other hazards such as missing and broken smoke alarms, damaged ceilings, infestations of roaches, exposed wiring, and large volumes of rodent excrement.
While none of the apartments in the buildings had carbon monoxide detectors, the fact is federal law does not require the installation of these detectors in public housing complexes. This differs from laws pertaining to smoke detectors, since the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development does require all public housing subsidized by HUD to have smoke detectors installed in all living areas.
Based on interviews with public housing authorities and information obtained from local news reports, there have been 11 confirmed deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning in HUD housing since 2003. This is noteworthy, since carbon monoxide poisoning tends to affect young children, elderly individuals, and others suffering from existing illnesses. According to government statistics, of the 4.6 million public housing residents in the United States, the vast majority fall into the above-mentioned categories.
Despite the obvious perils of living in housing without carbon monoxide detectors, many public housing advocates and public health experts believe HUD has been slow to react in making changes deemed by many to be necessary. Although HUD has been credited with attempting to curb the problem in recent years, much of the problem revolves around a confusing array of federal inspection standards and protocols that must first be reformed.
However, along with the carbon monoxide issue, many advocates believe this is but a symptom of a much larger problem involving the decline of outdated and poorly-maintained public housing projects. According to government estimates, more than 10,000 public housing units are lost each year due to them being declared unfit in which to live. In fact, many states such as New York view the problem as being extremely costly. Based on estimates from housing authority officials in New York City, the cost of renovating the city’s public housing could exceed $25 billion, with most of the funds going to not only the installation of carbon monoxide detectors, but also repairing faulty plumbing, boilers, elevators, and other areas.
In many of these cases, major conflicts arise between local, state, and federal officials. While federal officials are often looked at as having the ultimate power to make the necessary changes, they often in turn place blame on local and state officials for failing to properly oversee the housing projects. As a result, many officials on all levels are often left wondering exactly who is in charge.
With some public housing facilities such as Allen Benedict Court having been built in the 1930’s, it is no wonder they are in need of repairs. However, despite the CDC estimating 50,000 people visit emergency rooms annually and nearly 500 people die annually from carbon monoxide poisoning, the path to solving the problem remains unclear.