Carbon Monoxide Poisoning During Natural Disasters

CO Deaths During Natural Disasters

Josh Pringle, VP Business Development CO2Meter, Inc. 

Natural disasters are horrific events to experience first-hand and devastating for friends and family to view from afar. While you are trapped riding out the storm they are at home helplessly watching and worrying about you.

Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Earthquakes. Blizzards. Tsunamis. Sand storms. Mother nature is fierce and only increasing her frequency and severity.

In the United States, Gulf Coast states have seen an increase in both frequency and severity of hurricanes since 2016. The Plains states has seen a dramatic rise in tornado and seismic activity in the last decade. And the Upper Midwest and Northeast have seen massive amounts of snow storms too. Each time an event occurs our collective hearts sink at the images and stories of destruction and the impact on lives and communities.

One common occurrence during all these events is the purchase and use of portable generators to supply power for our homes. Feeding our families is the primary necessity and generators can supply enough power to keep your refrigerator cold and oven cooking. Heat and air conditioning are two more reasons people need portable power. These modern conveniences along with keeping your phones charged have become commonplace.

The sale and use of portable generators has increased dramatically because of their low cost and ease of use. National retailers like Lowe’s and Home Depot offer “seasonal discounts” on generators with costs as low as $229. Add in a few gallons of gas and time to connect your devices and your home can be powered for days.

But these generators come with a silent and deadly side effect that manufacturers and retailers rarely if ever tell you about – carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is one by-product of running a generator. When an engine does not completely burn the fuel CO fumes are released and can cause harmful - if not deadly - effects. Generators, gas and charcoal grills, stoves, furnaces, lanterns, fireplaces and other common devices can all emit CO.

Searching Google to find stories about people who die each year because they run their generator or grill inside or near their dwellings is easy. The difficult part is reading the articles and understanding how senseless these deaths are.

From the Daytona News Journal - September 2017

From the Orlando Sentinel - September 2017

In normal operation and use these devices and appliances release such small amounts of CO that you’d never notice. Measured in Parts Per Million (ppm) CO in your home is normally less than 2-3 ppm. But it only takes 25-35 ppm to make you sick – headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and weakness are all symptoms of CO exposure.

OSHA and the Centers for Disease Control list 50 ppm as the evacuation level for CO exposure. So, you can see why more than 20,000 people visit emergency rooms annually with CO poisoning symptoms.

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in the Home

As easy as it is to get sick from carbon monoxide it's easier to prevent CO poisoning incidents from occurring.

Try these easy and low-cost tips to prevent your and your families exposure:

  • Never use a portable generator inside. They are built to be weather proof and used outside.
  • Purchase and install a battery-operated CO detector in your home. They cost less than $30 at your local hardware store, and you should already have one if you have gas heat or cooking in your home.
  • Purchase a portable CO detector from a reputable company (like CO2Meter.com) if you are utilizing a generator or gas grill near your home during a natural disaster. For less than $100 this is an investment to protect your family.
  • If you have natural gas or propane heating or cooking appliances contact your gas provider, local HVAC contractor, or plumber to provide regular inspection and service for your appliances.
  • If you have a fireplace call a chimney sweep to have your chimney inspected and cleaned annually. Clogs and buildup can cause CO to back-up in to your home or worse, a chimney fire.
  • Never burn charcoal indoors. Cook using a charcoal grill away from your dwelling.

We hope this quick education and the tips provided will keep you safe during a natural disaster and all year round. If you or any of your friends or family exhibit signs of CO poisoning call EMS right away.

Your health and safety are easy to safeguard now that you know what to look for and do.


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