Maine CDC Press Release

May 27, 2010

As Many Open Summer Camps, Maine CDC Issues Carbon Monoxide Advisory

AUGUSTA – As Mainers take to the lakes, mountains and woods to open camps for the summer season, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services warns of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Health officials urge camp owners to make sure their propane-fueled stoves and refrigerators are working properly and exhaust gases are venting safely when turned on for the season. Campers should make sure they have working carbon monoxide detectors equipped with a battery back-up located close to where people sleep. These detectors can be found at most hardware stores and places that sell smoke detectors.

"It is around this time of year that we start to see people getting poisoned in their camps from high levels of carbon monoxide," said State Toxicologist Dr. Andrew Smith. "Usually, blocked exhaust vents or poorly maintained gas-fueled appliances are the culprits. Many camps don't have carbon monoxide detectors and unfortunately, some of the poisonings are life- threatening."

Boaters are also at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, Smith said. Carbon monoxide is present in the exhaust of inboard and outboard motors, as well as generators. Gasses can build to dangerous levels in areas near the boat. Boaters should stay away from exhaust vent areas, like the back platform. They should not swim in these areas when the motor or generator is on.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless and colorless gas created by any combustion engine or device. Improper venting, maintenance, operation or placement of combustion devices can result in poisoning when CO gas builds up in enclosed spaces.

Carbon monoxide can starve body tissues of the oxygen they need to work. 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.

Maine law requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in all rental units (including seasonal rentals) and new single family dwellings. Detectors are also required in existing single family dwellings whenever there is a transfer of ownership or an addition of at least one new bedroom. The law applies to camps and seasonal homes as well.

Additional Background on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning.
  • Each year in Maine, there are more than 100 emergency department admissions 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: tracking.publichealth.maine.gov
  • For information on the State law requiring carbon monoxide detectors:
    www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/chappdfs/PUBLIC162.pdf