Hurricane Power Outages Raise Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning, Fires

Government officials are warning individuals residing in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy to exercise caution, urging them to take steps to reduce their risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, electrical shock and fires.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) released a statement on October 30, warning of potential risks faced by residents affected by the powerful hurricane.

The agencies are warning consumers about the potential life threatening injuries that can come from generators, gas lines, power lines, and candle use.

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Consumers have been urged to use great caution when using gas-powered generators, because the devices release extremely high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), which can quickly incapacitate and kill.

Carbon monoxide is a significantly toxic gas that is colorless, odorless, tasteless and lacks any sort of irritating factor that could allow someone to detect its presence.

Since 1999, there have been at least 828 carbon monoxide deaths caused by consumers operating a generator inside of the home or in their garage. The U.S. agencies are urging consumers to never leave generator inside any enclosed area, as the devices should be left outside to prevent the build-up of CO in any living spaces.

Government officials are also warning residents to stay away from any downed wires, including cable TV feeds, as these may be “live” with deadly voltage.

Consumers standing in water should never handle or operate electrical appliances such as circuit breakers, wiring in the walls, and outlets that experienced the slightest water damage, the agencies also warn.

Consumers that have natural gas lines or propane valves that have been under water are being urged to replace them. Residents can detect if there is a gas leak by smelling and listening around the lines. If the lines are believed to be leaking, residents should leave the house immediately while leaving the doors open and call 911.

The agencies also indicate that many individuals will attempt to burn candles as a source of light while they are without power. However, caution should be used and flashlights are recommended instead, if they are available. Consumers should never leave candle burning unattended and should extinguish the candle before leaving the room.

Deaths, injuries, and property damage, from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $900 billion annually. Consumers with concerns or wanting to report a dangerous product or a product-related injury may go online to report at or call CPSC’s hotline at (800) 638-2772.


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