11 deaths, 1,400+ ED visits for carbon monoxide poisoning reported during Texas' winter power outage

At least 11 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning during the weeklong Texas power outage, according to a review of state hospital data by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and NBC News. 

During the state's mid-February freeze, Texans had to either risk hypothermia or improvise to keep warm. Many brought charcoal grills inside or ran cars in enclosed spaces, either unaware of the dangers or too cold to think rationally. This resulted in the nation's "biggest epidemic of CO poisoning in recent history," according to Neil Hampson, MD, a pulmonologist who has spent more than 30 years researching carbon monoxide poisoning.  

The three news publications analyzed statewide emergency room data from Feb. 13-20, as reported by the Texas Syndromic Surveillance system. Patients self-reported race and ethnicity.  

More than 1,400 Texans visited emergency rooms and urgent care clinics for carbon monoxide poisoning during that time period, with children accounting for 42 percent of the cases. The totals don't include those who didn't seek care or patients who didn't voluntarily report data.

Black, Hispanic and Asian Texans accounted for 72 percent of the poisonings, far more than their 57 percent share of the state's population. Part of this disparity may be attributed to where the power outages occurred — areas with a high share of residents of color were four times more likely to lose power compared to predominantly white areas, according to the Electricity Growth and Use in Developing Economies Initiative.

Texas is one of six states with no statewide requirement to have carbon monoxide alarms in homes, reports ProPublica. Instead, local governments have the ability to determine their own rules, with requirements varying widely across the state. In 2017, Austin became the first major Texas city to require carbon monoxide alarms in residences with fuel-fired appliances or attached garages.  

Unrelated to February's storm, state lawmakers are considering a broader modernization of state building codes. If the measure passes, it would mandate carbon monoxide alarms in some new homes and apartments, but not those built or renovated before 2022. Local governments would also be allowed to opt out. 

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