The Poison Control Center at CHOP reminds the greater Philadelphia region of the hazards of carbon monoxide (CO), a compound that is especially dangerous during weather emergencies and power outages. Since Hurricane Isaias came through our region on Tuesday, the Center has received almost two dozen calls from both families and other medical professionals about CO poisoning due to improper use of gas-powered generators.
Often called the “silent killer,” CO is odorless, tasteless, colorless—and toxic. It is made when any appliance that burns wood or fuel (oil, gas, propane, kerosene, coal) is malfunctioning or poorly vented. Often mistaken for flu, early symptoms of CO poisoning include headache, nausea, sleepiness, dizziness, and confusion. In severe cases, CO poisoning can cause coma, heart attack, and death. CO may be the culprit if symptoms occur shortly after using a furnace or generator, if multiple family members become sick at the same time, or if symptoms improve when outside of a home or building.
There are ways to make sure that CO does not cause problems in your home:
- During power outages, only use gasoline-powered generators outdoors, away from vents or windows, and at least 25 feet from the house.
- Install CO monitors in your home and make sure all monitors have fresh, working batteries.
- Don’t use gas ovens to heat your home.
- Avoid sitting in a car with the engine running if deep snow or mud is blocking the exhaust pipe.
- Make sure that all furnaces, chimneys, wood stoves, and heaters are checked regularly and are in good condition.
- Never use barbecue grills or gasoline-powered equipment indoors or in a garage.
If you think CO is in your home, you may attempt to air out the house, shut off the heating system, and call 911 or your heating company. If you have any symptoms and you suspect CO poisoning, leave the area immediately and contact The Poison Control Center or 911. The Poison Control Center’s toll-free 24-hour hotline is 1-800-222-1222.
Contact: Joey McCool Ryan, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, (267) 258-6735 or firstname.lastname@example.org