Generator use during power outage could increase carbon monoxide poisoning risk

Generator use during power outage could increase carbon monoxide poisoning risk
Generators can keep lights running, but could cause a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning if not used properly. (Source: Angie's List)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - People who rely on generators during power outages could be putting themselves and their families at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The Palmetto Poison Center says carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common poison-related cause of hospitalization and death after a hurricane.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless toxic gas produced when any fuel such as natural gas, propane, gasoline, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned.

The gas can build up in enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces, which can be deadly. After a storm, Poison Centers see an increase in poisonings due to improper use of generators in and around the home.

The Palmetto Poison Center recommends the following steps to use a generator safely during a power outage:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for portable generators.
  • Never use generators inside the home, garage, or near open windows or return vents to your home.
  • Generators, per guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control, should be placed 20 ft. from the home during operation.
  • Use a backup battery operated carbon monoxide alarm within your home as a precaution.
  • Never siphon gasoline by mouth to fill a generator with fuel.
  • Keep fuel sources out of the reach of children.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu or food poisoning.:

  • Fatigue/sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Irregular breathing
  • Confusion or disorientation

If your carbon monoxide alarm goes off, take these steps immediately:

  • Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms.
  • If they are, leave the affected area immediately and get fresh air.
  • If no one is feeling symptoms, open windows/doors and turn off potential sources of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Since you cannot smell, see, or taste carbon monoxide gas, it can kill, and sometimes quickly, experts say.

Carbon monoxide can also cause permanent damage to the brain and other parts of your nervous system. People of all ages can be affected, but infants and children are the most vulnerable.

People with questions can call the Palmetto Poison Center number at 800-222-1222.

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