Fumes from Power Generators Sending Kids, Adults to ERs. Here are Safety Tips.

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September 13, 2017

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The sounds of portable generators permeate South Florida neighborhoods that have yet to have electrical power restored, but the potential dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning has also become more widespread.

Baptist Health South Florida emergency rooms have seen an increase of family members overcome with carbon-monoxide (CO) gas, especially children who are more susceptible to CO exposure. High concentrations of carbon monoxide can be fatal in minutes. At low concentrations, CO fumes can require a longer period of time to affect the body.

(John Braden, M.D., medical director, emergency preparedness and security for Baptist Health South Florida, discusses the dangers of improper generator usage. Video by Alcyene de Almeida Rodrigues.)

Portable power generators need to be placed away from the home, and away from air-conditioners and windows or doorways. And these generators should never be used inside garages.

Sergio Segarra, M.D., chief medical officer at Baptist Hospital, says at least 13 children, ranging in age from 1 to 17, have been treated at Baptist Hospital due to carbon monoxide exposure from power generators that were too close to the home. Three of the children required hospitalization, he said. Additionally, at least 6 adults have been treated at the ER.

“People may not realize that even if the generators are outside, if they’re too close to air-conditioning units or windows, the carbon monoxide can get into homes,” said Dr. Segarra. “CO (carbon monoxide) is odorless. You won’t know it’s in your home unless you have working CO alarms. You need to have it far enough so it won’t get into your home.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says never to use a power generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas, even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation. And place the generators away from AC units and any openings such as windows and doorways that can allow the CO to seep into the home.

Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up in small areas of a home and can linger for hours, even after the generator has shut off.

Moreover, carbon monoxide is a gas that has no odor, color or taste. Symptoms of CO exposure can begin with light headaches and overall malaise, and escalate to more severe headaches, nausea and vomiting, says Dr. Segarra. Some children and adults can pass out from the CO concentration. Children are the most vulnerable.

“If you notice even the most minimal of symptoms, turn off the generators and step outside,” says Dr. Segarra. “If you feel just a bit of a headache, go outside and step away from the source. That will often prevent escalating of symptoms. Fresh air is first treatment.”

Proper Usage, Storage of Power Generators

Here are important safety tips on using portable power generators, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission:

  • NEVER use a generator inside homes, garages, crawlspaces, sheds, or similar areas — even when using fans or opening doors and windows for ventilation.
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak, and you’re using a generator, immediately get outdoors and breathe fresh air. Get out quickly because carbon monoxide from generators can rapidly overcome an adult or child.
  • Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Locate the unit outdoors and far from doors, windows, and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.
  • Never store fuel for your generator in the home. Gasoline, propane, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored outside of living areas in properly-labeled, non-glass safety containers. Do not store them near a fuel-burning appliance, such as a natural gas water heater in a garage.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. CO alarms should be certified to the requirements of the latest safety standards. Test batteries monthly.

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