Carbon monoxide detectors would be required in most Alaska homes under a bill that passed the House on Wednesday.
Rep. Carl Gatto, R-Palmer, said the requirement could save lives and protect children whose developing brains can be damaged by continuous exposure to even low levels of the gas.
The mandate would work similarly to an existing requirement that homes have smoke detectors. In rental homes, landlords would have to install the detectors, and tenants would be responsible for replacing batteries if needed and making sure the detectors are working.
Gatto said carbon monoxide poisoning kills 1,500-2,000 people a year in the United States and sends 10,000 to the hospital. In Anchorage last December, a family of five died from inhaling the poisonous gas.
“It’s the kind of killer that people are very unsuspecting of,” Gatto said.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas with no odor or taste that results from an incomplete combustion of natural gas and other materials containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal or wood.
It can cause severe headaches, nausea, confusion and death if inhaled for extended periods of time.
A person suffering carbon monoxide poisoning could wake up with a splitting headache and nausea, and go back to sleep, never to wake again, Gatto said.
“This is a very clever little killer,” he said.
Rep. Kelly Wolf, R-Kenai, argued against the bill, saying he does not believe it’s the government’s job to make people install the devices. “I’m really concerned about creating a knock-and-talk carbon monoxide police force in the state of Alaska,” Wolf said.
He worried that people with fish shacks and remote cabins would run afoul of the law. And he said, since there is zero fiscal note with the bill, the state obviously does not intend to enforce it.
Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, who sponsored the bill with Gatto, said the intent is not to turn people into criminals, but to save lives by prompting people to install the detectors.
Not having a carbon monoxide detector would be a violation, similar to a traffic ticket, that could result in a fine but not jail time.
The bill would mandate the detectors in homes where carbon-based fuels, such as gas or wood, are used. It would also apply to homes next to a parking space or with attached garages or carports.
The measure passed 32-6. Voting against it were Wolf; John Coghill, R-North Pole; Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak; Beverly Masek, R-Willow; Vic Kohring, R-Wasilla; and Jim Holm, R-Fairbanks.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.