By Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

800-992-9447

My father designed portable generators for his entire career. After he retired, he served as the executive director of the national trade association for the manufacturer’s of portable generators for another 15 years. I learned about carbon monoxide from my father, probably before I was 10. When I was 17, my father helped me write my senior term paper about air pollution, at a time that carbon monoxide and smog, was a big issue. Thus, when I see a story like today’s I shudder.

A family of six died in Fenton Township, Michigan, because their answer to a power outage was to run down to the local Home Depot and hook up a portable generator in their basement:

http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2016/02/family_of_six_dropped_in_their.html The headline in Mlive.com says that they “Dropped in Their Spots.” There is something wrong about this story. The danger of carbon monoxide poisoning from running an internal combustion engine inside has been known forever. But it shouldn’t happen this fast. The Mlive.com account makes it sound like the father of the family, succumbed almost as soon as he started the generator up. No engine should ever be that dangerous. If that was the lethality of carbon burning engines, we would have to push our cars into the garage, because we might die as soon as we started them up.

Hopefully we will learn more details as the authorities conduct a full investigation, but the starting point has to be testing that generator to figure out why it was spewing out carbon monoxide at a rate to poison someone within minutes of starting the engine.

Ironically, electrical generator engines can now be made almost carbon monoxide free. My father’s company pioneered the field and according to Kohler’s website, the new engines can run 99 percent carbon monoxide free. See http://www.kohlerpower.com/demos/lowcodemo-popup.html Such generators not only reduce carbon monoxide levels, they also come with a built in carbon monoxide alarm.

The Mlive.com report states that authorities were able to estimate the time of the poisoning based upon the convergence of other evidence with “a sales receipt for a generator and equipment from Home Depot that was time-stamped 10:06 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19,” according to Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell.

Tomorrow we will address whether the standards for all portable generators should now be shifting to the low CO generators referenced above. At a minimum should not big box retailers only stock such generators when the risks that such will be used in a home is much higher than for other type generators?

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