Maine CDC Press Release

June 5, 2012

Maine CDC Offers Tips to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

AUGUSTA – As summer camps open and people make plans to take to the water, health officials of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MeCDC) have issued an advisory to raise awareness of the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and how best to prevent it.

“Each year, we see a handful of poisonings and most could have been avoided,” said Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Maine CDC. “You have to know how to prevent yourself from getting poisoned by carbon monoxide so a day of fun doesn’t become a day of tragedy,” said Pinette.

Summer activities often put people in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. “In past summers, we’ve seen several poisonings as a result of blocked venting for propane refrigerators that many people have in their camps,” said Andrew Smith, state toxicologist.

Other risky situations include repairing small engines in enclosed or semi-enclosed space and swimming behind a boat or hanging off the ski deck while the motor is running, Smith said.

Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas. Because you cannot see, smell or taste it, warning signs of poisoning can be confused with illness, intoxication or motion sickness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning this summer, the Maine CDC recommends the following:

  • At camp: Check vents for propane-powered appliances in your camp and make sure appliances are working the right way. Make sure you have a working CO detector in your camp near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery each summer. If your CO alarm goes off, get outside right away and call 911.
  • Off-roading: If you get stuck in mud or water, immediately check if the exhaust is blocked. If it is, carbon monoxide could build up inside an enclosed vehicle to deadly levels in just a few minutes. Get everyone out of the vehicle. Get as much fresh air into vehicle as you can. Getting back into the vehicle could be extremely dangerous.
  • Engine repair: Don't run a car, truck, lawn mower, tractor, outboard motor or any other engine inside a garage, barn or shed, even if you leave the door open.
  • While boating: Stay away from the boat’s exhaust areas, like the back platform. Don’t swim behind the boat when the motor is on.
  • Get prompt medical attention: If you think you are getting poisoned and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous.

Additional Background on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
  • Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless and colorless gas created by engines and appliances that burn fuel such as gasoline, propane or kerosene. Improper venting, maintenance, operation or placement of these engines or appliances can result in poisoning when CO builds up in enclosed spaces—even if the doors and windows are open.
  • Each year in Maine, there are more than 100 emergency department visits and between one and five deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. In 90 percent of the cases, there are no carbon monoxide detectors present where the poisonings occur. For Maine CDC data on carbon monoxide poisonings visit the Maine Tracking Network: https://tracking.publichealth.maine.gov
  • Half of Maine homes have carbon monoxide detectors. Maine law requires CO detectors in all rental units, including seasonal rentals, and new single family homes. Detectors are also required in existing single-family homes whenever there is a transfer of ownership or an addition of one or more bedrooms. The law applies to camps and seasonal homes as well. For information on the State law requiring carbon monoxide detectors: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/chappdfs/PUBLIC162.pdf