It is a common occurrence this time of year, families poisoned by carbon monoxide from a generator.
Wednesday, three adults and five children were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning in unincorporated San Mateo County, California. When firefighters arrived, three of the children were unconscious. They were quickly revived with oxygen.
In this case, the adults started a 4,000-watt portable generator after their power was turned off for nonpayment. They used extension cords to carry the power into, not only their home, but also into a detached garage that was home to several others.
The adults knew there was a problem when one of the children, fell ill and was unresponsive. Firefighters found that the levels of the odorless and colorless gas in the home were at their highest reading.
Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman said the home will be declared uninhabitable, but the family is lucky to be alive.
"It wouldn't have taken very much longer," Schapelhouman said to the San Jose Mercury News. "Another 10 minutes and we would have begun to see fatalities."
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), hundreds of people die each year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, and the death toll from carbon monoxide (CO) associated with generators has been steadily rising in recent years.
Though the gas is odorless, symptoms of poisoning include severe headache, dizziness and nausea. The symptoms are not unlike the flu, according to the EPA. Often people go to sleep and do not wake up.
64 people reportedly died in 2005 from generator-related CO poisoning, and at least 32 in 2006, reports the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Carbon monoxide comes from unvented kerosene and gas space heaters; leaking chimneys and furnaces; back-drafting from furnaces; gas water heaters and gas stoves; generators and other gasoline powered equipment. Automobile exhaust unvented in a garage is a source of carbon monoxide.
- A $30 detector is worth the investment.
- Never sleep in a room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater.
- Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Use generators outside only, far away from the home.
- Have your fuel appliances checked once a year by a professional.
- Keep CO alarms in the house, especially the rooms where you sleep.
- Running an automobile or a barbecue in the garage is dangerous
- Make sure the car and truck tail pipes are not clogged with snow or debris.
- Consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one.
- Use proper fuel in kerosene space heaters.
- Install and use an exhaust fan vented to outdoors over gas stoves.
- Open flues when fireplaces are in use.
- Choose properly sized wood stoves that are certified to meet EPA emission standards. Make certain that doors on all wood stoves fit tightly.
- Have a trained professional inspect, clean, and tune-up central heating system (furnaces, flues, and chimneys) annually. Repair any leaks promptly.
- Do not idle the car inside garage.
- Check your gas stove output.
Average levels in home without gas stoves is 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). With gas stoves they can reach 30 ppm or higher. While no standard for CO has been agreed upon for indoor air, the National Ambient Air Quality Standard for outdoor air are 9 ppm for 8 hours and 35 ppm for one hour. #