CPSC Issues Carbon Monoxide Risk Advisory Following Nationwide Winter Storms

Gasoline-powered generators alone contribute to nearly 100 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths in the U.S. each year, according to federal safety officials, which are warning about risks amid widespread snowfall this week.

As a series of winter storms impact millions across the United States this week, federal safety officials have released a series of tips designed to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and fires, which may result from products used to keep families warm when they lose power.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a carbon monoxide and fire advisory last week, urging consumers to remain vigilant and take precautionary steps to ensure they remain safe while using portable generators or heaters, in the event they lose power during the widespread inclement weather affecting most of the country.

Gasoline-powered generators are commonly used when electrical power is lost during a winter storm. However, officials warn they release toxic and undetectable gas that can cause fatal carbon monoxide poisoning within minutes.

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Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is often called an “invisible killer,” because it is colorless and odorless. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen quickly and consumers may lose consciousness before they notice symptoms of exposure, such as weakness, dizziness, or vomiting.

Nearly 100 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths occur from portable generators every year in the U.S., according to the CPSC, and most of those exposures were preventable.

Consumer Safety Recommendations

Safety officials urge consumers to keep their portable generators properly maintained and recommend they follow the owner manual’s instructions to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning while using them.

Portable generators should only be used outside and kept at least 20 feet away from the home or any structure. They should never be used on a porch or inside a home, garage, basement or shed, because even open doors and windows cannot provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of potentially fatal carbon monoxide gas.

When choosing a portable generator, the CPSC recommends consumers choose a model equipped with a shut-off safety feature, which is designed to automatically turn off the generator when it detects high levels of carbon monoxide. These models may be advertised as certified with the latest portable generator safety standards PGMA G300-2018 or UL 2201, and are estimated to reduce carbon monoxide poisoning deaths by 87% and 100%, respectively.

Portable heaters are another commonly used item to warm households when power is lost, and consumers are urged to ensure all sides are kept at least three feet away beds, curtains, clothes, and any other items that may catch on fire. They should only be placed on a stable, level surface, where they cannot be knocked over, and should never be left running unattended.

Consumers should ensure their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working and have backup batteries if power is lost. The CPSC recommends installing interconnected, battery-operated alarms on every level of the home, and inside each bedroom.

Officials also urge consumers to avoid burning charcoal indoors and to never cook with a charcoal grill inside of a garage, even if the garage door is open. Burning charcoal can also produce life-threatening levels of carbon monoxide.

Consumers should immediately leave their home and contact local gas authorities from outside of the home if they smell or hear gas leaking.

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