Warm Weather CO – Preparedness is Key
Warm weather CO risks correlate to severe storms and portable electric generator use, which must be used outdoors and no closer than 20 feet to structures. Generators should never be used in garages.
By Rebecca Martin
Inevitably warm weather brings severe weather advisories. For Part One of this series, click here. High winds, severe thunderstorms, tornado watches and hurricane tracking and potential evacuations are weather situations which increase during warmer weather, all of which come with warm weather CO risks. In 2021, the number of nationwide reports of severe weather were down while specific areas such as the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast exceeded the annual average of severe weather reports.
The Midwest and Plains reported fewer incidents of severe weather which impacted the national average. So, while some areas of the United States had some respite last year, other areas experienced severe weather highs. One peak time is when Canada settles into warmer summer temperatures and the ensuing weather fronts are more active and energetic. https://spectrumlocalnews.com/nys/binghamton/weather/2021/10/03/severe-weather-warnings-in-2021–who-was-active-and-who-wasn-t
With severe weather the potential for power outages of varying durations can be a co-occurring risk with a possibility of injuries or fatalities from carbon monoxide due to the inevitable improper use of fuel-powered devices-adding to the warm weather Carbon monoxide poisoning risks. Portable generators are among the deadliest consumer products on the market. Sales of portable generators are on the rise despite the fact that they kill an average of 70 people annually and injure thousands of others each year. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/generators-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-rcna9027
Better Generator Rules would Reduce Warm Weather CO Risks
According to the previous article, written in conjuction with ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom, the problem with portable generators has been common knowledge for two decades. But the problem has not been properly addressed due to a legal snag.
“regulations that would force companies to reduce generators’ carbon monoxide emissions and make the machines safer have been stymied under a statutory process that empowers manufacturers to regulate themselves, former government officials and consumer advocates say.” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/generators-carbon-monoxide-poisoning-rcna9027
So rather than addressing the emissions from portable generators which, according to federal figures can produce as much carbon monoxide as 450 cars, only stopgap safety measures have been applied to the problem. These include shut-off switches which have not been universally installed across the industry. In addition, the failure of states and municipalities to enact and enforce regulations for mandatory carbon monoxide detectors in all residences has contributed to the ongoing problems surrounding the use of portable generators during power outages.
Educating Public to Warm Weather CO Risks
A nationwide attempt at educating the public as to the dangers involved in the improper use of portable generators has been another stopgap which does not dip into the profits of the generator industry. This shifts the responsible use of the devices into the hands of the consumer and presumes that the public is properly educated on the use of portable generators.
Previously we have discussed other considerations in educating the public as to the improper operation of portable generators. One of those was the increased risk in communities which may not be predominantly English-speaking and some municipalities have increased efforts to get the information to such neighborhoods and communities as well as targeted severe storm warnings and emergency information.
But the fact remains that in the absence of a language barrier, consumers continue to operate portable generators in a dangerous manner. Two people died in a home in Michigan in April this year. The two were living in a home without power or heat. Investigators found a portable generator operating in the basement and several electric and propane space heaters throughout the home. Investigators suspected improper ventilation led to the deaths.
Typically, the State Department of Health and Human Services will host and process applications for those needing help with utilities. Each state differs however so these type of applications may be processed through a different state agency.
A power outage differs from this situation in that often the homeowner believes they are providing protection for their family above and beyond utilities. That decision may end in tragedy if protocols for usage are not followed. A portable generator should NEVER be operated inside the home or attached garage. Open doors do not guarantee that a generator is not producing high levels of carbon monoxide. Generators should not be used outdoors in proximity to doors, windows or vents.
Generators should be placed 20 feet from the home. Research has shown that dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up if a generator is placed 15 feet or less outside of the home.
In areas where theft is a concern, generators should be secured at the proper distance with a heavy chain and lock rather than moved to a more secure location. There are many other risks involved in operating a portable generator in addition to carbon monoxide hazard. Electrocution and fires are also concerns and becoming familiar with the operation of a portable generator is imperative.
There is a very extensive guide to safety when operating a portable generator at https://www.grainger.com/know-how/equipment-information/kh-portable-generator-safety-guide
There is another comprehensive guide available from OSHA:https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHA3286.pdf
Alarms Reduce Carbon Monoxide Risks
The other important consideration is the installation of carbon monoxide detectors, with a battery or battery-powered backup, in any structure utilizing a portable generator. And, as with any fuel burning device, proper maintenance is essential. Pulling out a generator during an emergency without any type of annual maintenance can also present a risk of malfunction.
Carbon monoxide can kill in under five minutes. Undoubtedly people assume that it takes much longer for a fatal level to become an issue. It is never said enough that carbon monoxide is an odorless gas which can kill quickly and disable those in its vicinity very quickly.
Consumer Reports also recommends that if a portable generator is used it should be a brand which has passed their CO Safety Technology test. Their recommendations and guidelines for portable generators is available at https://www.consumerreports.org/generator/generator-safety-tips-to-get-you-through-a-storm-a1088725298/ This site also includes links to helpful articles on choosing a generator for your home.
The purchase of a portable generator in preparation for severe storm weather and the subsequent outages really must go hand in hand with educating ones self as to its proper maintenance, and operation. The consequence for not familiarizing your self with its use could prevent a tragedy that was preventable.
We may question why portable generator manufacturers do not prioritize a solution to the dangers inherent in the use of portable generators, but until they do, the burden of safety has been put upon the consumer. The more information the consumer can arm themselves with can increase the probability for a safe outcome during the summer storm season.
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