Storms can carry carbon monoxide dangers

In anticipation of Hurricane Sandy, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) and other health authorities are reminding residents of the dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) associated with the use of portable generators and outdoor grilling devices.

One year after a rare October snowstorm left over 800,000 Connecticut customers without power, Hurricane Sandy may potentially impact Connecticut early next week. According to a release sent by the department of health, last year’s storm resulted in one of the largest outbreaks of carbon monoxide poisoning ever seen in the nation, with 143 cases of CO poisoning and five CO-related deaths. Most of the cases were related to the improper use of portable generators and charcoal grills.

Exhaust from portable generators and outdoor grills contain carbon monoxide. Generators and outdoor grills should never be used indoors or in enclosed spaces such as garages, basements, or porches. Opening windows and doors, and operating fans is not sufficient to prevent the buildup of CO in a home. Always run your generator outdoors as far from your home as possible (at least 20 feet) and away from doors, windows, and air intake vents. In addition, CO detectors with battery back-ups should be installed in homes, especially near sleeping areas.

CO is an invisible, odorless gas that can be fatal. The symptoms of CO poisoning are the same as the flu, including headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or loss of consciousness. If you suspect CO poisoning or your CO detector goes off, get out of the house immediately. Dial 911 from a cellular phone outside of your home or a neighbor’s house.

Matthew Cassavechia, director of emergency medical services for the Western Connecticut Health Network — which includes Danbury and New Milford Hospitals — sees a lot of carbon monoxide cases after heavy power outages, like those caused by last October’s snowstorm. Like DPH, he said people need to be careful when using generators. “We really want the public to heed the warnings about carbon monoxide and generators,” he said.

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning and prevention, visit the DPH Environmental & Occupational Health Assessment Program at or call (860) 509-7742.

Amanda Cuda