Maine CDC Press Release

December 9, 2009

Carbon Monoxide(CO) Poison Warning

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

Local Fire Department
Northern New England Poison Center

With an approaching winter storm likely to result in power outages, the Maine Center for Disease Control (Maine CDC), 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, these combustion devices can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless toxic 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. A gas powered generator is especially hazardous as it can produce as much carbon monoxide as the exhaust from 100 cars. 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, between 100 and 200 Maine residents are seen in hospital emergency departments due to carbon monoxide poisoning, and there are 1 to 5 deaths.

How To Prevent CO Poisoning During Power Outages:

  • Place generator outdoors in the fresh air. Place it more than 15 feet away from windows, doors or other entry ways that may allow deadly CO gas to enter the home. Do not put a generator in a closed or partly closed space, like a basement, cellar bulkhead, or garage. Carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels in these enclosed 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 of your home. 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 You Suspect CO Poisoning:

If you or anyone in the home thinks you are being poisoned by carbon monoxide

  • 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.