Maine CDC Press Release

November 9, 2010

Severe Weather Prompts Reminder of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Contact:
Andrew Smith, SM, ScD
State Toxicologist
207.287.5189

AUGUSTA — As the recent bout of stormy weather moves through Maine, leaving thousands without power, officials at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Me-CDC) are reminding Mainers to protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“With winter approaching, storm-related power outages become more common, and, unfortunately, so do carbon monoxide poisonings,” said state toxicologist, Dr. Andrew Smith. “The best way to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning is to use generators and gas-powered appliances properly, have your heating system serviced and get a carbon monoxide detector.”

The reminder also follows recent reports out of Brunswick and Lebanon where properly working carbon monoxide detectors prevented poisonings. In these instances, malfunctioning heating systems were leaking carbon monoxide into buildings. “Fortunately, all occupants evacuated the buildings when they heard the alarms. Carbon monoxide detectors can save lives,” said Dr. Smith.

The Me-CDC estimates that while the overall number of households with detectors has been steadily increasing over the last few years, only one-third of rental units and one-half of owner-occupied homes have detectors. A law enacted by the 124th Legislature requires carbon monoxide detectors in all rental units and new single family homes is helping to increase those numbers. The law also requires detectors in existing single family dwellings whenever there is a transfer of ownership or the addition of at least one new bedroom.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a gas that can cause sickness, coma or death when it builds up in enclosed spaces. It is not seen, does not smell and cannot be tasted. Warning signs of poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning results in over 100 emergency department visits each year in Maine.

During cold weather months, health officials also see carbon monoxide poisonings from people performing engine repairs in garages, barns or sheds. All combustion engines or devices give off CO when they run. Improper venting, maintenance, operation and placement of these devices can result in poisoning. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials recommend the following:

  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Don't use a gas-powered generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gas or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window or door. Generators should be more than 15 feet from your home when running.
  • Don't run a car, truck or any other motor inside a garage or other enclosed space, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don't try to heat your house with a gas oven.
  • Make sure you have a CO detector with a battery back-up in your home near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. You can buy an alarm at most hardware stores or stores that sell smoke detectors. By law, all rental units must have a CO alarm—talk to your landlord if you don’t have one in your apartment or rental house.
  • If your CO alarm goes off, get out of the house right away and call 911. Get prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.

For data about CO poisoning in Maine: https://tracking.publichealth.maine.gov. For more information about CO detector law: http://www.maine.gov/dps/fmo/index.htm .