Maine CDC Press Release

February 13, 2007

Take care to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning during power outages

Andrew Smith, SM, ScD, State Toxicologist
Environmental and Occupational Health Program
Maine Center for Disease Control 1-800-222-1222
Tel: (207) 287-5189
Pager: 759-7156

With a major winter storm in the forecast, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Maine Center for Disease Control warns Maine citizens to be very careful using gas-powered generators, kerosene heaters or other heating or power sources during power outages. If not used safely, they can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas formed when burning most types of fuels. Using gas-powered generators, kerosene heaters, charcoal grills, and gas grills can cause poisoning if CO gas builds-up in closed in spaces. Warning signs of CO poisoning are flu symptoms like headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but without a fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death. Every year, more than 200 people die in the U.S. due to CO poisoning. There have been four deaths in Maine this heating season from CO poisoning due to improper use of gas-powered generators indoors.

How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Power Outages:

 Place a generator outdoors in the fresh air. Keep it away 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.

 Use kerosene heaters in a well ventilated room. Keep doors to other rooms open or keep a window open at least 1 inch. Use only K-1 grade fuel in kerosene heaters. Read the directions for setting the wick height.

 Do not use outdoor cooking devices indoors like gas or charcoal grills, gas camp stoves.

 Do not use gas appliances like ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers for heating your home.

 Always turn off your vehicle in a garage.

 Place a carbon monoxide detector that is battery powered (or has battery back-up power) in the hallway outside each sleeping area. Be sure Underwriters Laboratory certifies the CO detector. Look for the UL mark with the "Single Station Carbon Monoxide Alarm" statement. CO detectors are in most stores.

If carbon monoxide poisoning is expected, take the following steps:

 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.