Carbon Monoxide Killed At Least 11 People In Texas Ice Storm

Icicles hang off the State Highway 195 sign on February 18, 2021 in Killeen, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation.
Icicles hang off the State Highway 195 sign on February 18, 2021 in Killeen, Texas. Winter storm Uri has brought historic cold weather and power outages to Texas as storms have swept across 26 states with a mix of freezing temperatures and precipitation.
Image: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images (Getty Images)

An in-depth investigating into carbon monoxide poisonings during the ice storm in Texas in February found a public health crisis that could have been prevented with a $15 piece of equipment lawmakers didn’t regulate.


The Texas Tribune told the heartbreaking account of one family’s carbon monoxide poisoning after they tried to warm up in their car during the power outages that shook the state:

Etenesh Mersha, 46, meanwhile, made a fateful decision, one repeated by scores of Texas residents who lost electricity that week. Desperate to warm up, she went into their attached garage and turned the key to start her car. As the engine hummed, it provided power to run the car’s heater and charge her phone while she talked to a friend in Colorado — at the same time, filling her garage and home with a poisonous gas.

There was no carbon monoxide alarm in place to warn the family of the invisible danger. None was required under local or state law.


The Mersha family lost Etenesh as well as their little girl. The family’s patriarch and young son survived with minimal brain damage after weeks on oxygen. The story of the Mersha family is far from rare, the Tribune found. So many people were poisoned by carbon monoxide during the power outages from the storm that many hospitals began to run out of beds and lifesaving oxygen to treat all of the victims. And the victims were, of course, mainly from lower income or marginalized groups who had less options for getting warm. Experts told the paper that carbon monoxide poisonings during the storms were a completely preventable public health disaster:

At least 11 deaths have been confirmed and more than 1,400 people sought care at emergency rooms and urgent care clinics for carbon monoxide poisoning during the weeklong Texas outage, just 400 shy of the total for 2020. Children made up 42% of the cases. The totals don’t include residents who were poisoned but did not seek care or those who were treated at hospitals and urgent care clinics that do not voluntarily report data to the state.

Black, Hispanic and Asian Texans suffered a disproportionate share of the carbon monoxide poisonings, ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and NBC News found based on a review of statewide hospital data. Those groups accounted for 72% of the poisonings, far more than their 57% share of the state’s population.

One of the problems, it seems, is a complete lack of state-wide requirements for carbon monoxide detectors in newly built or recently remodeled homes. The device is laughably cheap — only $15 — yet Texas is one of only five states with no statewide carbon monoxide detector requirements at all, despite multiple attempts over the years from lawmakers. And it’s not like the benefits of requiring such detectors isn’t obvious. From the Tribune again:

In some states that have passed robust statewide rules, there’s been a significant reduction in poisonings, fire safety experts say.

“When the state comes in and requires it, there is continuity across the whole state — there is one message,” said Jim Smith, the state fire marshal in Minnesota, where emergency department visits for carbon monoxide poisoning fell by 45% — from 411 to 226 — in the seven years after the state passed a sweeping law requiring alarms in most private residences. “It is no different than a seat belt.”


The entire Texas Tribune story is well worth your time. Suffice to say, you should never, ever leave your car running in an enclosed space, nor bring inside charcoal grills meant for outdoor use.

Correction: The headline incorrectly listed the death toll in Texas as at least 100 deaths. The actual death toll is 11 deaths and 1,400 sicken. We regret the error.


the 1969 Dodge Charger Guy

Let’s take a step back from the CO detectors not enforced to why these people, even kids, didn’t have to die.

Having lived in TX for many years, I can tell you with authority how many of them were so absolutely smug about their electric grid being separate from the rest of the nation. “Yee-hah! Them thar DC politicians can’t regulate our state-only grid! Yee-hah!” (Attitude changed since the deep freeze? Hopefully.)

True, but then the heads-up-their-asses Texans could’ve done their jobs and upgraded their grid due to how fragile they found out their network was in 2011.

So here came last winter’s Texas deep freeze and thanks to being such short-term simpleton dicks, they only put band-aids on their grid. There’s no excuse and hopefully heads roll because of it. In the meantime, for the sake of the nation doing the right thing for Americans as a whole, get Texas on the national grids. And regulate them to meet robust standards. They let upgrades slide, now they have to pay.

That’s why regulations exist—because too many shitheads—usually Republican, won’t do the right thing unless forced to.  And look: the regs will prevent deaths.