As Virginians experience power outages related to Hurricane Sandy, many people will begin using gas-powered appliances and charcoal or gas grills for electricity and cooking. Carbon monoxide exposure from these sources can be deadly.
The Virginia Department of Health reminds people to take precautions when using alternate sources of power. Carbon monoxide exposure is a silent killer and the number of carbon monoxide poisoning cases and fatalities typically increases following severe weather events.
Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas and is highly poisonous. Depending on the level of exposure, carbon monoxide may cause:
-Chest pains for those with heart disease
-Shortness of breath upon exertion
-Lack of coordination
-Loss of consciousness
-In severe cases, death
VDH recommends the following precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
-Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
-Never use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces and other enclosed or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent carbon monoxide build-up in the home.
-Always locate the unit outdoors on a dry surface, away from doors, windows, vents and air-conditioning equipment that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
-Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Position the unit outdoors and away from doors, windows, vents and air conditioning equipment that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
-Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and flues) inspected each year for proper operations and leakage.
-Install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors or plug-in carbon monoxide detectors with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. -The carbon monoxide detectors should conform to the latest safety standards for carbon monoxide detectors (UL 2034, IAS 6-96, or CSA 6.19.01).
-Test your carbon monoxide detectors frequently and replace dead batteries.
-If your carbon monoxide detector indicates high levels of carbon monoxide, leave the building immediately and call 911.
-Remember that you cannot see or smell carbon monoxide and portable generators can produce high levels of carbon monoxide very quickly.
-If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. Do not delay.
-If you have a poisoning emergency, call the national Poison Information Center number at (800) 222-1222. If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 immediately.
The CDC has prepared many card-sized carbon monoxide resources that can be printed and placed on generators and other emergency response sources of carbon monoxide. These resources are available at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/co-materials.asp.
For more information about how to protect yourself and your family before, during and after natural disasters, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov or the Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s Web site at www.vaemergency.gov.
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