Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.


In yesterdays blog, I called for the end of manufacturing of portable electric generators that did not meet the state of the art capacity to eliminate 99% of carbon monoxide emissions. Click here for yesterday’s blog. In that blog I advocated that it was time to use the provisions of strict liability products liability law to find manufacturers at fault for deaths from portable electrical generators. I argued that we could not simply wait for legislatures to pass new laws, that the Courts needed to step up. However, there is an even more rapid way to eliminate high carbon monoxide emitting portable generators – for the big box retailers to stop selling them. The time has come for the Home Depots, the Lowes, the Menards of the world, to only sell portable generators that could be used safely in ways that it is inevitable that their customers will use them.

This series of blogs started with news over the weekend of six deaths in Fenton Township, Michigan, related to operating a portable generator in the basement of a home after a power outage. This type of dangerous use of a portable generator in a home happens again and again, enough so that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has mandated a safety sticker for each such device, warning that operating a generator indoors can Kill in Minutes.

It is time that Big Box Retailers stop selling high emitting portable generators.

It is time that Big Box Retailers stop selling high emitting portable generators.

Why are these warnings not effective? They aren’t effective because the way these generators are marketed entice people to use the generators, in just the way they are warned not to use them. The Fenton Township deaths were reportedly from a generator purchased that day at Home Depot. Here is a sample of what Home Depot puts on its website to induce people to buy such generators in the case of major power outages. From homedepot.com:

Natural disasters and infrastructure failures have seemingly become routine. No one wants to be at the mercy of depending on public utilities in times of crisis. The Durostar DS4000S is an affordable, essential generator to safeguard your family. This rugged workhorse is ideal for a wide variety of uses from getting you through a power outage to keeping you and your family supplied with all the conveniences of home while being out in the wilderness.

There has been a power outage. The consumer has the idea that a portable generator can solve the problem, is told that the generator is essential to safeguard his family. The electrical panel to his home is in the basement. If he plugs the generator into the electrical panel, power is restored. His family, the food in his freezer, is safeguarded. In the case of Fenton Township fatalities, the consumer died before he even left the basement.

Big box retailers should not be selling something that dangerous. There are alternatives, portable electric generators that eliminate 99% of carbon monoxide fumes. It is time that the high carbon monoxide generators are pulled off the shelf and replaced by generators that lower the risk of carbon monoxide brain damage and death by 99%.

At a minimum, those who sell portable generators during a power outage need to have a one on one personal conversation with the consumer. Ask them the simple question – do you have a long enough extension cord so that you can connect this generator to your home’s electrical panel, without putting it in the basement or the garage.

Or is there any reason that big box retailers couldn’t simply create a new policy: we don’t sell portable generators without mandatory purchase of a carbon monoxide detector?

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