Maine CDC Press Release

August 30, 2011

After Irene, Carbon Monoxide Poisonings Prompt Generator Safety Warning

AUGUSTA - The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of carbon monoxide poisonings from generators being improperly run in garages in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. With several thousands of Maine households still without power, health officials are re-issuing safety warnings for people using gas-powered generators as alternate power supplies.

"People may be tempted to run their generators in their garages or very close to their home, but this is extremely dangerous," said State Toxicologist Dr. Andrew Smith. Along with Maine, there have been several reports of carbon monoxide poisonings across the East Coast, including at least one death. All of these poisonings were caused by improper use of generators.

"Gas-powered generators should always be used outside and placed at least 15 feet from windows and doors, including neighboring homes or buildings," said Smith. "Every home should also have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector with fresh batteries. This is especially important for those folks running generators right now."

Two incidents of CO poisoning have been reported thus far, one each in Penobscot and Androscoggin Counties. Each incident involved two people who were treated and released from their respective local hospitals.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas formed when burning most types of fuels. Using gas-powered generators can cause poisoning if CO gas builds-up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces, like garages, even if windows and doors are left open.

Warning signs of CO poisoning are flu symptoms like headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death.

How to Prevent CO Poisoning During Power Outages

  • Place the generator outdoors in the fresh air. Keep it at least 15 feet from windows or doors. Do not put a generator in a closed or partly closed space, like a basement, cellar bulkhead, or attached garage. Carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels in these spaces.
  • Do not use outdoor cooking devices, such as grills or camp stoves, indoors.
  • Place a carbon monoxide detector that is battery powered (or has battery back-up power) outside each sleeping area. CO detectors are available in most stores. Look for the UL mark with the "Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm" statement.

If You Suspect CO Poisoning

  • Leave the house at once.
  • Call the fire department or 911.
  • Get medical attention. Call the Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) or your doctor after you leave the house.
  • Do not go back into the building until the fire department tells you it is safe.