State Health Commissioner Warns Those Without Power to be Aware of the Silent Killer: Carbon Monoxide

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 7, 2012) - New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., is urging residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy to stay safe, as a Nor'Easter approaches coastal areas. Commissioner Shah also warned people who may have lost power due to Hurricane Sandy that deadly carbon monoxide (CO) can result from the improper use of alternate power sources.

"Carbon monoxide is known as the silent killer because it can strike without warning, causing severe injury and potential death," said Commissioner Shah. "That is why it is critical to take the proper steps to be as safe as possible."

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of poison-related fatalities in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), CO is responsible for approximately 450 deaths and over 20,000 injuries every year.

Poisoning occurs when CO—an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas—escapes from fuel-burning appliances and becomes trapped in enclosed spaces. Poisonings from CO are often caused by faulty furnaces, improperly operating portable generators, or using other fuel-burning devices indoors.

Although CO poisoning occurs frequently, the following tips can help to prevent it from happening to you.

Tips on proper maintenance and operation of dangerous CO producers

  • Never run generators in indoor spaces, such as garages, basements, porches, crawlspaces or sheds, or in partly enclosed spaces such as carports or breezeways. Generators should only be operated outside, far away from (25 feet or more if possible) and downwind of buildings.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for warmth. Using a gas range or oven for warmth can cause a buildup of toxic CO inside your home, cabin, or camper.
  • Never use a charcoal grill or a barbecue grill in your home or garage. Using a grill indoors will cause a buildup of toxic CO.
  • Never start up or run any gasoline-powered engines (mowers, weed trimmers, snow blowers, chain saws, generators, or other small motors) in enclosed spaces.
  • Never use a stove or fireplace unless it is properly installed and vented. Annually, have it inspected and have oil and gas heat and hot water systems serviced.
  • Never run your car or truck or motorcycle inside a garage that is attached to a house or in a detached garage with the garage door shut; open the door to remove CO and other toxic gases in the exhaust.

Symptoms of CO poisoning

CO is known as the "silent killer." It can prevent the body from getting oxygen. Symptoms can be flu-like: nausea, headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, sleepiness, weakness. In large amounts, CO can cause loss of consciousness, brain damage, or death.

If you suspect CO poisoning

  • Open all windows and doors.
  • Get Out of the building and into the fresh air.
  • Call the fire department from outside the building.
  • Call the gas company from outside the building.
  • Call 911 if you or someone else is experiencing symptoms, or take the ill person to the emergency room. Tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning.

Install CO Detectors

  • Install a CO detector which is battery-powered or has a battery back-up, and is certified by Underwriters Laboratories (UL).
  • Carefully follow manufacturers' installation, use, maintenance, and replacement instructions.
  • Check the CO detector batteries twice a year.
  • If the alarm sounds, get out of the building.
  • Don't let having a CO detector lull you into a false sense of security. Preventing the problem is better than relying on an alarm.

For more information about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning, go to