Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From Portable Generators Could Be Avoided With Better Industry Standards: CPSC

Due to a lack of industry compliance with voluntary standards, federal safety officials may pursue mandatory rules to prevent carbon monoxide injuries from portable generators.

With tens of thousands of preventable carbon monoxide poisoning accidents reported each year throughout the U.S., federal regulatory officials indicate they intend to recommend new mandatory safety standards for portable generators.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) released a report on February 23, analyzing whether manufacturers of portable generators are equipping the products with sufficient carbon monoxide shut-off features to prevent deaths caused by exposure to the toxic gas. The report indicates some manufacturers have yet to adhere to voluntary industry standards established years ago, resulting in a call for more action to hold manufacturers accountable.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. The gas is often referred to as the “silent killer,” since it is difficult to detect without the use of a properly functioning detector or alarm, and is a leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States.

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According to the report, officials have found that manufacturers are failing to adequately adherence to the current voluntary safety standards that are intended to reduce the risk of portable generator CO injuries. In fact, some manufacturers have yet to even adopt the 2018 voluntary safety standards set by the American National Standards Institute, which approved the use of PGMA G300 or UL 2201 shut-off features as a means of carbon monoxide poisoning hazard-mitigation. Both standards require generators to shut off when certain concentrations of CO are present around the generator

To determine the effectiveness of the currently approved PGMA G300 or UL 2201 shut-off features, CPSC staff completed roughly 140,000 simulations for 37 different house models and three detached garages, with various generator locations and generator sizes involving more than two dozen different weather conditions. The simulations were based off of 511 fatalities in the CPSC’s databases.

The analysis of the simulations determined generators compliant with the PGMA G300 standard had a projected 87% rate of preventing carbon monoxide poisoning death, with survivor’s only requiring hospitalizations or medical treatment. Of the simulations involving the UL 2201 standard, nearly 100% of all deaths were averted, and significantly less users required hospitalization or medical treatment.

Despite the effectiveness of the carbon monoxide safety features, CPSC officials indicate “compliance with UL 2201 appears to be minimal; compliance with PGMA G300, although greater, is still lacking for most models or units currently being sold.”

When agency officials reached out to manufacturers to ask why they had not equipped CO-emitting portable generators with either of the approved safety features, the report indicates several manufacturers responded saying they intend to implement the features in the next year, or that a lack of availability of CO sensor parts has delayed their progress.

While the CPSC is prohibited from issuing a mandatory rule if an effective voluntary standard exists, the agency suggests that forming a mandatory rulemaking process could still be possible if there is not substantial compliance of the industry.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Risks

Carbon monoxide is often described as the “silent killer”, as the gas has no smell, taste, color or other irritating factors that may allow individuals to detect a leak.

Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide gas may result in mental confusion, vomiting, loss of consciousness and quickly cause death. Individuals exposed to carbon monoxide typically experience symptoms similar to the flu, and those who survive prolonged exposures are commonly left with devastating brain damage that can impact them for the rest of their lives.

The CPSC urges families to take the proper precautionary steps to ensure their heating systems are safe, and not leaking potentially fatal carbon monoxide gas, which is one of the leading causes of fatal poisoning in the United States.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning kills about 500 people in the U.S. annually, and is linked to about 15,000 emergency room visits, many of which could have been prevented by the use of carbon monoxide detectors and proper maintenance of heating systems and generators.


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