CPSC Warns of New Dangers Among Gulf Coast Victims of Hurricane Katrina From Deadly CO Poisonings

September 13, 2005
Release Number: 05269

Offers Important New Safety Tips for Residents Able to Return Home After Hurricane

With a sharp increase in the number of carbon monoxide related deaths among Gulf Coast residents stemming from the unsafe use of outdoor portable generators in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) today announced a major new initiative urging hurricane victims to avoid a potentially fatal situation by never using these generators indoors.

Unofficial estimates indicate at least 11 deaths and numerous injuries have been attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning stemming from portable generators used in areas with power outages. The CPSC is coordinating with the CDC and other health and safety organizations, as well as our nation's largest home improvement and hardware retailers, to provide life-saving safety warnings to Gulf Coast residents – many of whom are expected to be first time users of generators.

"As federal, state and local officials continue their important relief mission in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of families are fortunately beginning the process of returning to their homes," said CPSC Chairman Hal Stratton. "So we're reminding all Gulf Coast residents that some of the biggest dangers lie in the aftermath of the hurricane, the greatest of which can be carbon monoxide poisoning."

Stratton provided hurricane survivors with these important life-saving tips:

  • Never use a portable generator indoors – including garages, basements, crawlspaces and sheds. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home.
  • During use, keep portable generators outdoors and far away from open doors, windows and vents, which can allow CO to build up indoors.
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. The CO from generators can readily lead to full incapacitation and death.
  • Keep generators dry and wait for the rain to pass before using a generator. Consumer-grade generators are not weatherproof and can pose the risk of electrocution and shock when used in wet conditions.
  • Do not connect the generator directly into your home's electrical system through a receptacle outlet – this is an extremely dangerous practice that poses a fire hazard and an electrocution hazard to utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer.
  • If using a generator, plug individual appliances into heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and plug cords into the generator.
  • Check that the extension cords have a wire gauge adequate for the appliance loads and have all three prongs, including a grounding pin.
  • Keep charcoal grills outside. Never use them indoors. Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Check to make sure your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms have batteries and are working.

Wet Carpets and Furniture Are Dangerous to your Health

  • Discard water-damaged mattresses, wicker furniture, straw baskets and the like that have been water damaged. These cannot be recovered.
  • Throw out wet room-size carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys, ceiling tiles and anything that can't be picked up and cleaned by dry cleaning, steam cleaning or put in a washing machine or dryer.
  • Remove and replace wet insulation.
  • Microorganisms may grow in these water-damaged products and may cause allergic reactions and infections. For more information, see CPSC Publication 425

Avoid Electrical and Gas Hazards

  • Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet. Discard electrical or gas appliances that have been wet because they pose electric shock and fire hazards.
  • Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate your home and replace all gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.

Dangers to Children

  • Medicines and chemicals should be thrown away. Water may have infected the integrity of the medicine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers additional safety tips. For more information, go to the FDA Drug Safety site
  • Young children and water don't mix. Watch children around buckets, tubs and standing water in and around the home. Even small amounts of water can be a drowning hazard.