News Release

October 12, 2005

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

Heating Systems and Disasters Pose CO Risks

Portable Generators Generate More than Power

FARMINGTON, Conn. – In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, 51 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning were reported by medical facilities in the affected areas equipped with special hyperbaric oxygen chambers used for treatment. The source of exposure for all but one of the 46 nonfatal cases was exhaust from portable generators, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.

As we approach the winter season, the likelihood of storm-related outages and generator usage increases. “Generators produce carbon monoxide. Without proper ventilation, CO levels can be life-threatening,” said toxicologist Marc J. Bayer, M.D., medical director of the Connecticut Poison Control Center at UConn Health Center. He stressed that generators, and any gas-powered tool or engine, should never be used anywhere inside the home, including the garage and that opening windows and doors, and using fans will not prevent CO buildup. Generators should be outdoors and away from doors, garage doors, and windows, he said.

As the days get colder, homeowners will soon be using their furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces – all of which produce carbon monoxide, Dr. Bayer warned. Without proper ventilation or improper combustion, heating systems can also cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. He recommends that homeowners have their heating systems, wood stoves and fireplaces inspected and cleaned, and any worn or faulty parts replaced, to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and he strongly recommends carbon monoxide detectors. “Everyone should have a carbon monoxide detector in their living space and in their bedroom areas,” he said. “People are especially at risk while sleeping. CO detectors are a simple and economical precaution that can save lives.”

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a byproduct of burning organic fuels that include oil, gas, wood, coal and kerosene. It is poisonous and can be lethal. It is particularly dangerous because you can’t smell, see or taste it. The early signs of CO poisoning include headache, nausea, unclear thinking, shortness of breath, weakness and loss of muscle control. Symptoms often mimic the flu, leading to misdiagnosis by both patient and physician. Be suspicious of CO poisoning if symptoms vanish when you leave your regular indoor environment. Severe symptoms can include convulsions and unconsciousness that can lead to death.

If your CO detector alarm goes off, or if you experience symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, go outside immediately. Use your cell phone or a neighbor’s phone to call your local fire department or 911.

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