Poison experts caution: Use generators safely

America’s poison centers are urging people who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy to exercise caution when using portable generators to avoid carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

According to the experts at America’s 57 local poison centers, carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common poison-related cause of hospitalization and death in the wake of hurricanes. It is called a “silent killer” because there are no odors or symptoms that signal a problem. When people use generators improperly — too close to homes, in garages or outside bedroom windows – carbon monoxide can seep in and sicken or even kill. Open windows or outside garage doors do not provide adequate ventilation for generators or other gas-powered equipment.

“Many poison emergencies happen when electrical power is lost in the period during and after natural disasters like hurricanes and winter storms,” according to S. Rutherfoord Rose, director of the Virginia Poison Center. “An entirely preventable emergency is carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s why we encourage anyone who loses power and plans to use a portable generator to follow some key safety steps.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers recommends the following tips for using portable generators safely:

  • Carefully follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions for portable generators.
  • Never use portable generators indoors, in garages or near open windows.
  • Do not siphon gasoline by mouth to fill a generator with fuel.
  • Use battery-operated (or battery-backup) carbon monoxide alarms. Be sure to test the batteries.
  • If you experience sleepiness, dizziness, headaches, confusion, weakness or your carbon monoxide alarm sounds, immediately seek fresh air and call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222.

More storm safety tips are available at aapcc.org.

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