Putting Data to Work to Evaluate Carbon Monoxide Detector Policy

June 15, 2015

carbon monoxide poisoning preventionNationally, carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning. In Maine, about 100 people visit the emergency department and between one and five people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year.

The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to prevent the gas from building up in homes and places where people spend time through proper use, maintenance, and ventilation of anything that produces carbon monoxide, such as boilers and furnaces, engines, and gas-powered appliances and generators.

Carbon monoxide detectors also play a very important role in preventing poisonings and deaths. Findings from follow-up surveys conducted for almost all cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in Maine show that for more than 90% of cases there were no  carbon monoxide detectors present.

In November 2009, the Maine legislature passed a law requiring carbon monoxide detectors in all residential rental units, new construction single family homes, and existing homes when a property transfer or major renovation occurs.

Tracking Homes with Carbon Monoxide Detectors

In response to the law, the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) put its tracking and analysis tools to work as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of the law. Using responses to the state Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), a statewide, annual telephone survey, the Maine CDC tracks the number of rental and owner-occupied households with carbon monoxide detectors.

Data recently added to the Maine Tracking Network show that in 2013, 65% of all Maine homes had at least one carbon monoxide detector, up from 35% in 2004. The increase is mostly due to significant gains in the number of rental homes with detectors which grew from 34% in 2009 to 69% in 2013.

Given these findings, the ultimate question is: Has the increase in detectors resulted in a decrease of carbon monoxide poisonings in Maine? To answer this question, Maine CDC has in place several additional tracking mechanisms to detect a reduction in poisonings as data become available.

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