Maine CDC Press Release

October 15, 2003


Augusta - Today’s high winds and rain have caused power outages for over 200,000 Mainers. The Department of Human Services, Bureau of Health is issuing a warning to Maine citizens to be extremely careful when using a gas-powered generator or similar alternative heating or power sources. Improper operation or placement of such devices can lead to Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning. Warning signs of CO poisoning are flu-like symptoms without fever (such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion). CO poisoning can also result in coma and death. CO is an odorless gas emitted when burning most fuels. Improper operation or placement of alternative heating or power sources can result in poisoning when CO gas builds-up in enclosed spaces. A Bureau of Health study of the CO poisoning epidemic, in the aftermath of the January 1998 ice storm power outages, found that improper placement of a gasoline generator, such as in a basement or garage, could increase the risk of poisoning by 20 to 300-fold. Using a kerosene heater in a room without any doors to other rooms opened, or failing to crack a window, also put people at increased risk for CO poisoning.

Recommendations To Avoid CO Poisoning During Power Outages:

* Place generators outdoors in a well ventilated location Generators should be placed well away from home windows or doors Generators should not be placed in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space (such as basement, cellar bulkhead, attached garage) where carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels.

* Use kerosene heaters in a well ventilated room, by either keeping doors to other rooms open or keeping a window partially open (at least 1 inch) Use only K-1 grade fuel in kerosene heaters Follow instructions for setting the wick height.

* Do not use outdoor cooking devices indoors (such as gas or charcoal grills, gas camp stoves).

* Do not use indoor gas cooking stoves for heat.

* Keep chimney flue and a window open when burning decorative gas fireplace logs as a heat source.

* Keep a carbon monoxide monitor certified by the Underwriters Laboratory, and available in many hardware stores. If battery powered, replace batteries at least annually.

What Should You Do If You Suspect CO Poisoning?

If you or anyone in the home suspect you are being poisoned by carbon monoxide, you should first leave the house immediately, and then call your local fire department or 911. Seek medical attention by contacting either the Maine Poison Control Center (1-800-442-6305) or your physician after you have left the area where you suspect the carbon monoxide is present. Do not go back into the building until you know the CO levels are safe.