Hurricane Fiona has knocked out power across Puerto Rico and is causing catastrophic flash flooding across the island. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning consumers in Puerto Rico and in other areas in the path of the powerful storm about the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning from portable generators and other post-storm hazards.
Loss of Power—Using a Generator Safely
Consumers need to be especially careful when storms knock out electrical power. Gasoline-powered portable generators create a risk of CO poisoning that can kill in minutes. CO is called the invisible killer because it is colorless and odorless. Exposed persons may become unconscious before recognizing the symptoms of nausea, dizziness or weakness.
CPSC estimates that about 85 consumers die in the U.S. each year from CO poisoning from gasoline-powered portable generators. A recent CPSC report, Fatal Incidents Associated with Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide Poisoning from Engine-Driven Generators and Other Engine-Driven Tools 2011-2021 shows that African Americans are at higher risk, accounting for 23 percent of generator-related CO deaths, nearly double their estimated 13 percent share of the U.S. population.
Consumers who plan to use a portable generator in the case of a power loss should follow these tips:
- Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace, shed or on a porch. Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO.
- Operate portable generators outside only, at least 20 feet away from the house, and direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home and any other buildings that someone could enter, while keeping windows and other openings closed in the exhaust path of the generator.
- Watch new public service announcement (PSA) on generator safety! (English, Spanish)
Check that portable generators have had proper maintenance, and read and follow the labels, instructions, and warnings on the generator and in the owner’s manual.
- Look for portable generators that shut off automatically when high levels of CO are present. Some models with CO shut-off also have reduced emissions. These models may be advertised as certified to the latest safety standards for portable generators- PGMA G300-2018 and UL 2201 – which are estimated to reduce deaths from CO poisoning by 87% and 100%, respectively.
Check CO and Smoke Alarms
- Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup on each level and outside separate sleeping areas at home. Interconnected CO alarms are best; when one sounds, they all sound.
- Make sure smoke alarms are installed on every level and inside each bedroom at home.
- Test CO and smoke alarms monthly to make sure they are working properly and replace batteries, if needed. Never ignore an alarm when it sounds. Get outside immediately. Then call 911.
Dangers with Charcoal and Candles
- Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of CO. Do not cook on a charcoal grill in a garage, even with the door open.
- Use caution when burning candles. Use flashlights instead. If using candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when leaving the room and before sleeping.
Dangers with Wet Appliances
- Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet. Do not touch wet appliances that are still plugged into an electrical source.
- Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate them for safety. Replace all gas control valves, electrical wiring, circuit breakers and fuses that have been under water.
Dangers with Gas Leaks
- If you smell or hear gas leaking, leave your home immediately and contact local gas authorities from outside the home. Do not operate any electronics, such as lights or phone, before leaving.