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Winter is just around the corner and with it the inevitable blizzards and ice storms that are sure to blow through here over the next several months. Of course, ice and snow bring the possibility of extended power outages and many people turn to portable generators to keep their homes functioning even when winter is at its worst.

While a portable generator can seem like a life send in the dark days of winter, the fact is that they are dangerous mechanical devices that need to be used with caution. One of the biggest risks associated with portable generator use is carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. A 2007 press release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission noted that in 2005 alone at least 64 people died from carbon monoxide poisoning linked to generator use. Carbon monoxide poisoning is particularly worrisome because it is a poison that cannot be seen and has no odor. And portable generators produce massive amounts of this deadly gas: the carbon monoxide produced by just one generator is equal to the amount produced by hundreds of running cars. Taken together this means a person exposed to CO likely has no idea of the risk until it is too late.

Acknowledging these risks, in 2007 the CPSC started requiring manufacturers to put “Danger” labels on all new generators. The purpose is to warn consumers of the risks inherent in using a generator and to provide safe use guidelines. Now, before winter is in full swing, is a good time to review some of these guidelines.

  • NEVER use a generator inside a home, garage, basement or porch, even if the doors and windows are open.
  • Generators should ONLY BE USED OUTDOORS.
  • Place your generator away from windows, doors and vents. Make sure that the area is well ventilated
  • Install CO alarms with battery back-up in your home and check them periodically to make sure they function properly
  • If you start to feel sick, weak or dizzy, get fresh air immediately. Carbon monoxide poisoning can quickly lead to incapacitation and death.

Of course generators are not the only possible sources of carbon monoxide poisoning. The CPSC also found that every year about 170 people die as a result of CO poisoning from other CO-producing products such as faulty or improperly installed appliances such as furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces or even charcoal grills.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a risk to be taken very seriously—it can kill quickly and with little to no warning. This winter make sure that you keep you and your loved ones safe by testing your appliances, using them properly and having working detection systems in your home.

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