Discover more from Mexico Listo
How To Guard Against Carbon Monoxide When Traveling
tldr: Buy a portable carbon monoxide detector!
This isn't exactly a fun subject, but it is important and anyone living or traveling in Mexico should understand it, and take one simple and inexpensive precaution.
U.S. news outlets reported recently (Oct, 2022) that 3 U.S. vacationers in Mexico City had died in their Airbnb of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
Thanks for reading Mexico Listo! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
A few years ago (Dec, 2018) media outlets reported on the death of 2 vacationers in San Miguel de Allende. The cause of death was also attributed to CO poisoning from a gas leak in their Airbnb.
These are tragic stories. And while stories like these are not common, people in the U.S. and Canada are only exposed to them when they involve people from the U.S. and Canada. There are many other similar stories that involve visitors from non-North American countries - as well as the residents of Mexico themselves - falling ill or dying from carbon monoxide poisoning resulting from leaks in gas lines and containers.
An Ounce of Prevention
The presence of gas fumes can usually be detected by the human nose, because the most common sources of gas in the home - natural gas and petroleum, both of which are odorless, tasteless and colorless gases - is treated with a chemical called mercaptan. It is mercaptan that gives gas it's "rotten egg" smell; mercaptan is used precisely because it causes an objectionable smell, a smell that triggers humans to take notice.
But the smell caused by mercaptan is not necessarily enough to, for example, wake a sleeping person. And the concentrations of mercaptan used in various gas products is not always the same across geographies or vendors. Some concentrations might be low enough that it becomes more difficult to detect. Thus the advent of CO detectors. Similar to smoke detectors that most of us from the U.S. and Canada are used to, CO detectors detect the presence of CO inside a building. In the U.S. and Canada, all buildings that contain fuel burning appliances require that CO detectors be installed and operational.
But CO detectors are not required in Mexico1. And - even though they are catching a lot of flack over it - Airbnb does not require that CO detectors be installed in the rentals listed on their site; they instead defer to local laws and regulations. In any event, due to the highly distributed nature of their rental listings, they would have no way of checking or enforcing a CO detector policy2.
Call To Action
Although rare, CO poisoning (and gas explosions!) do occur. And because Mexico (and many other countries) don't require that CO detectors be installed in buildings that have fuel-burning appliances, you, reader, must take some precautions. Sleeping with windows open is one such precaution - but this may not always be practical, especially in areas or times that are very cold (yes, it gets cold in Mexico); in areas where air conditioning is likely to be running all night; in areas with annoying mosquito populations.
So please, please do this one thing: buy a portable CO detector and take it with you when you travel. It doesn't matter where you're traveling: Mexico, France, or Wisconsin - take a portable CO detector with you. Even if CO detectors are installed where you are going, do you trust that they are operational? That the battery isn't dead? That it has recently been tested?
Portable CO detectors are relatively inexpensive, small, and easy to use. I am a minimalist - I travel with just a single backpack - and I have no problem fitting a CO detector into my bag (my detector is the size of a couple packs of cards). With Amazon dropping things off at your house every other day, the barrier to traveling with your own CO detector is basically non-existent.
Are you in Mexico? Go to amazon.com.mx and type in:
detector de monóxido de carbono para viajes
(Leave out "para viajes" if you're looking for one for your home)
carbon monoxide detector for travel
Not sure which model to pick? Check this out.
To paraphrase Karl Malden3: CO detector: don't leave home without it.
Many countries don't require CO detectors, but I am, of course, focusing on Mexico here.
Airbnb will cover the cost of smoke and CO detectors in their hosts' listings.
Wait - am I really that old?