AUGUSTA, Maine — As the recent bout of stormy weather moves through Maine leaving thousands without power, officials at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention remind Mainers to protect themselves from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“With winter approaching, storm-related power outages become more common, and, unfortunately, so do carbon monoxide poisonings,” said state toxicologist Andrew Smith in a statement released Tuesday. “The best way to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning is to use generators and gas-powered appliances properly, have your heating system serviced and get a carbon monoxide detector.”
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a gas that can cause sickness, coma or death when it builds up in enclosed spaces. It is invisible, does not smell and cannot be tasted. Warning signs of poisoning include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning results in more than 100 emergency department visits each year in Maine.
During cold-weather months, health officials also see carbon monoxide poisonings from people performing engine repairs in garages, barns or sheds. All combustion engines or devices give off CO when they run. Improper venting, maintenance, operation and placement of these devices can result in poisoning.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, health officials recommend the following:
ä Have any heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
ä Don’t use a gas-powered generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gas or charcoal-burning device inside a home, basement, garage or near a window or door. Generators should be more than 15 feet from the home when running.
ä Don’t run a car, truck or any other motor inside a garage or other enclosed space, even with the door open.
ä Don’t try to heat your house with a gas oven.
CO detectors with a battery backup should be located near sleeping areas. Check or replace the batteries each spring and fall when the time changes. CO detectors may be purchased at most hardware stores or stores that sell smoke detectors. By law, all rental units must have a CO detector.
If the CO alarm goes off, get out of the house right away and call 911. Get prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
The Maine CDC estimates that while the number of households with carbon monoxide detectors has increased over the last few years, only one-third of rental units and one-half of owner-occupied homes have detectors. A recent law requires carbon monoxide detectors in all rental units and new single-family homes. The law also requires detectors in existing single-family dwellings whenever there is a transfer of ownership or the addition of at least one new bedroom.