Oregon Poison Center Offers Advice on How to Avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

12/15/08  Portland, Ore.

With as many as 100 reported carbon monoxide poisonings in Washington and at least a dozen in Oregon during the last major storm, the Oregon Poison Center at OHSU would like to help educate the public on how to prevent these tragedies this winter

When power is lost due to severe weather, many people rely on alternate heat and electricity sources, some of which can prove hazardous, even fatal, if used inappropriately.

The Oregon Poison Center at Oregon Health & Science University would like to help educate the public on how to avoid one of the hazards of using alternate heat sources indoors: carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

CO ‑ an odorless, colorless gas ‑ can cause sudden illness or even death when inhaled. During power outages, which occur predictably after winter storms, use of alternate fuel sources for heating, or cooking can cause CO build-up in a home, garage or camper and poison people and animals inside.

To avoid CO poisoning, the Oregon Poison Center recommends the following:

  • Never   use generators, grills or ranges, camp stoves or other gasoline-, propane-   or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, basement, garage, camper or   outside an open window. Gasoline- and kerosene-powered devices must be   placed outside and  away from any   ventilation which might draw in its exhaust.
  • If   you must use a generator to keep warm during winter power outages,   purchase and install a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector near bedroom(s).   Batteries should be checked twice a year, at the same time as smoke   detector batteries.
  • Never   burn anything indoors to keep warm. If weather conditions are too hot or   too cold, seek shelter with friends, or in a hotel or community shelter.
  • Never   run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer or any gasoline-powered   engine outside an open window, in a garage, even if the door is open, or   anywhere exhaust can be vented or sucked into an enclosed area.
  • Never   leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially   enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Don’t use the car or motor   home engine to heat a parked, closed vehicle or camper if you are staying   in it overnight.
  • If   CO poisoning is suspected, call 911 and go outside where there is fresh   air.

Each year more than 500 people die in the United States from accidental CO poisoning. CO poisoning can be slow in onset with victims slowly failing asleep or with noticeable symptoms, such as headache or nausea, which is often attributed to the flu. However, this silent odorless gas can cause loss of consciousness, brain damage and death. Common symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. People who are sleeping can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.

If you suspect someone is suffering from CO poisoning, call 911 immediately. Leave your home, open all windows and doors and turn off the furnace, the power generator and the stove.