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.