Carbon monoxide incidents

Carbon monoxide was the most frequently released single hazardous substance. Carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly from misuse of generators in residences, was the largest source of the morbidity and mortality; over two-thirds of the 160 victims were injured in carbon monoxide-related events. In another study of 27 incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning that resulted in 10 fatal and 78 nonfatal cases in Alabama and Texas after Hurricane Katrina and Rita, the majority of incidents were caused by portable generators. Most of the generators were placed outside but close to the home in order to power window air conditioners or to connect to central electric panels.

Interviews of 18 of the 27 incident households showed that only 6 (33%) had a carbon monoxide detector present, but only one alarm went off. The other 4 had dead batteries and one sent a signal to a remote security system that was unable to alert the household by telephone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that because there has shown to be no safe distance for generator placement, there should be functional carbon monoxide detectors in all households (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006b). Our data show that responders were injured by carbon monoxide while sleeping in temporary housing (camper). Therefore this recommendation should be expanded to temporary housing as well.

In January 2007, the Consumer Product Safety Commission required manufacturers to place a danger label on all new generators and the generator packaging. The commission began to explore various strategies to reduce consumers' exposure to carbon monoxide including generator engines with substantially reduced carbon monoxide emissions, and interlocking or automatic shutoff devices (Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2009). These measures could potentially reduce harm in the future.

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