A stealthy serial killer and a thought experiment

I took time out from Hurricane Sandy chaos yesterday to trek up town Manhattan to a cafe featuring actual electricity and a breakfast to meet Gordon and Avril Samuel, a British couple whose story I wish I didn't know so well.  We both lost a daughter in 2010 to carbon monoxide poisoning.  

Here is their daughter Katie (above) and my daughter Zoe. 


Here's Katie's story.  And Zoe's.  

And here's a thought experiment for you. If you knew there was a serial killer loose who entered people's homes undetected and silently dispatched his victims... and if you knew he had killed more than 500 people in the last year in the US and UK and showed no signs of letting up... and if you knew that any family could guard their homes against him for a couple hundred dollars...  but this wasn't happening because the companies and authorities who could do something about it weren't interested...  wouldn't you be a little bit outraged?

That's the carbon monoxide enigma.  Detectors are cheap and effective. But in the US and UK and most of Europe, there is no legislation requiring their installation.  Gas companies seem reluctant to highlight the dangers for fear of scaring people off gas. Insurers have no interest -- a human death, unlike a house fire, does not cost them.  The same governments who will make multi-billion dollar investments on commercial airline safety decline to act. Airplane risks capture the public imagination, despite the fact total deaths in recent years in the west are, literally, zero.   CO deaths trickle in one at a time, largely under the radar. Approximately 50 in the UK last year. 400+ in the US. Both numbers probably significantly understated, because the deaths are often mysterious. 

Meanwhile millions of home owners install smoke detectors, but not CO detectors, despite the fact that you can see and smell smoke, and you can't see or smell CO.  

Gordon and Avril are working to change all this. They started a foundation for Katie, launched a youtube video, and are campaigning to change the law in the UK.

I admire what they're doing.  And if anyone has suggestions for how to make a breakthrough on this issue, I -- and they -- would love to hear.  

And if you don't have CO detectors in your home, or those of people you love...  you should. Good guide here. An idea worth spreading.
14 responses
Thanks Chris!
After reading this blog post and the linked articles back in late November, I purchased a carbon monoxide detector for my home, plus 13 more detectors which I distributed to family and friends over the Christmas holiday. I've also tried to get the word out about this as much as possible to everyone I know.

Thank you for sharing Zoe's and Katie's stories.

Where are the numbers?

If 400 people die per year, and you need one per household, at $200 per household, 114Mil households in the US, and about 50% have gas...

That's 11.4 BILLION dollars you are suggesting is spent to save 400 people per year. That's 28 million dollars per saved life. Do you realize how many lives you could save with that money spent elsewhere?

Well, fires kill 14 thousand per year, even though you "can see and smell smoke". 62% didn't have smoke alarms. How about sending officials around to check for fire alarms?? For 11.4 billion dollars you could knock on every door in the country 3 times and still have wads of cash leftover to reduce the price of smoke detectors!

6000 people die each year falling off ladders, FFS

In the 3rd world... well, forget about it. Bill Gates looks like he may be saving a child's life per $500, so that means something like 23 million children would not die PER YEAR if people to donated to his organisation instead of CO detectors. But no, you'd rather save 400.

There may be a sensible solution to carbon monoxide poisoning, but this is fear mongering without reason.

I expect so, so much better from you Chris. This is NOT an idea worth spreading.

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