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Hurricane Health and Safety

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Don't Use Power Generators, Gas Grills and Charcoal Grills Indoors

When electricity goes out during a hurricane or ice storm, people often turn to gasoline-powered generators for power, use charcoal or gas grills for cooking, or use kerosene heaters for warmth. But many people do not realize that those generators, grills and heaters can create dangerous—and deadly—carbon monoxide gas if used in enclosed areas.

You can't see or smell carbon monoxide, but it can kill you and your family or make you very sick. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever any fuel is burned, including gas, oil, kerosene, propane, wood, or charcoal. In an enclosed space, CO can build up to deadly levels without anyone noticing it.

High levels of CO can kill people in minutes if they do not immediately get fresh air. At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. You can even die if these levels persist for a long time. Low levels of CO can cause dizziness, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have long-term effects on your health. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever becoming aware of any symptoms. If you suspect CO is present in the home, get out of the house immediately, get fresh air, and seek medical help.

To keep yourself and your family safe, follow these precautions:

  • DON’T ever use a charcoal grill or propane stove indoors – even in a fireplace.
  • DON’T use any gasoline-powered engines (generators, mowers, chain saws, small engines, etc.) in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. Use them only in open, well-ventilated areas.
  • DON’T run a gasoline-powered generator next to the house near an open window or door—carbon monoxide can enter a home that way, too.
  • DON’T use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
  • DON’T idle your car or truck in the garage– even if the garage door to the outside is open. Fumes can build up very quickly in the garage and living area of your home.
  • DO keep rooms well-ventilated.
  • DO read and follow all of the instructions that accompany any fuel-burning device. Use the proper fuel and make sure there is enough air for ventilation and proper fuel-burning. Most such devices should not be used indoors.
  • DO install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home.

If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:

  • DO GET FRESH AIR IMMEDIATELY. Open doors and windows, turn off combustion appliances and leave the house.
  • DO GO TO AN EMERGENCY ROOM and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. If CO poisoning has occurred, it can often be diagnosed by a blood test done soon after exposure.
  • DON’T ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is feeling them. You could lose consciousness and die if you do nothing. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, you may not think that CO poisoning could be the cause. See a doctor to be sure.

For more information on carbon monoxide, see the Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet, “Protect Your Family and Yourself from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning,” at www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/coftsht.html.