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Background: While residential carbon monoxide (CO) alarms are now required in a majority of states, the cost effectiveness of the devices is unknown. This analysis was performed to determine the degree of prevention efficacy necessary from home carbon monoxide alarms for their expense to be cost-effective.
Methods: Data regarding numbers of individuals affected in the United States annually from accidental, non-fire, residential non-fatal and fatal carbon monoxide poisoning were obtained from published literature. Federal governmental estimates of societal costs associated with medical care, lost wages and earnings, value of pain and suffering, and value of a statistical life were applied. The cost of uniform residential carbon monoxide alarm installation was compared to those societal costs in order to calculate what degree of efficiency makes alarms cost-effective.
Results: Societal costs for accidental, non-fire, residential CO poisoning are approximately $3.47 billion annually. With an estimated cost of $348 million annually for alarms, prevention of greater than 10% of residential CO poisoning costs must be achieved in order for alarms to be cost-effective.
Conclusions: While the true effectiveness of residential carbon monoxide alarms has yet to be determined, current state legislation requiring residential installation of CO alarms is probably cost-effective.