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Avoid Storm-Related Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The U.S. consumer safety commission issued a warning: Floridians who lose power and rely on generators can die in minutes if a generator isn’t properly ventilated.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Planning for Hurricane Ian’s aftermath is critical. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is alerting consumers about the risks of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from portable generators and other post-storm hazards.

Use a generator safely

 Portable generators create a risk of CO poisoning that can kill in minutes. CO is called the invisible killer because it’s colorless and odorless. People exposed to CO may become unconscious before experiencing the milder CO-poisoning symptoms of nausea, dizziness or weakness.

The commission estimates that about 85 consumers die in the U.S. each year from CO poisoning from portable generators. A recent CPSC report found that African Americans are at higher risk, accounting for 23% of generator-related CO deaths – nearly double their estimated 13% share of the U.S. population.

 In the case of a power outage, follow important life-saving tips: 

  • Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or shed. “I’ll keep a door or window open” doesn’t provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO.
  • Operate portable generators at least 20 feet away from the house, and direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home and any other buildings that someone could enter – and keep any nearby windows or other openings closed. Do not operate a generator on an outside porch or in a carport. They are too close to the home.
  • Check that portable generators have been maintained properly, and read and follow the labels, instructions and warnings on the generator and in the owner’s manual.
  • Look for portable generators that have a CO shut-off safety feature, which is designed to shut the generator off automatically when high levels of CO are present around the generator. Some models with CO shut-off features also have reduced emissions. These models may be advertised as certified to the latest safety standards for portable generators – PGMA G300-2018 and UL 2201 – which reduce deaths from CO poisoning an estimated 87% and 100%, respectively.

Check CO and smoke alarms

Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup on each level and outside separate sleeping areas at home. Interconnected CO alarms are best; when one sounds, they all sound. A CO alarm is your last line of defense when using a generator. 

Make sure smoke alarms are installed on every level and inside each bedroom at home.

Test CO and smoke alarms monthly to make sure they’re working properly, and replace batteries if needed. Never ignore an alarm when it sounds. Get outside immediately. Then call 911.

Charcoal and candles

  • Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of CO. Do not cook on a charcoal grill in a garage, even with the door open.
  • Use caution when burning candles. If using candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when leaving the room and before sleeping.

Wet appliances

  • Do not touch wet appliances that are still plugged into an electrical source.
  • Before using appliances after a weather event, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate them for safety. Replace all gas control valves, electrical wiring, circuit breakers and fuses that have been under water.

Gas leaks

If you smell or hear gas leaking, leave your home immediately and contact local gas authorities from outside the home. Do not operate any electronics, such as lights or phone, before leaving.

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