Why Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From Generators Can Pose a Greater Threat Than Hurricanes

Why Carbon Monoxide Poisoning From Generators Can Pose a Greater Threat Than Hurricanes

A recent spate of hurricanes in the American South has brought up a new round of discussions on the effects of climate change on severe weather events. But an overlooked danger that hurricanes cause is the massively increased use of gas generators. And there is good reason to think that emissions from these generators lead to more deaths than the hurricanes themselves. 

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Back to the dangers of gas generators. According to a recent article from the Houston Chronicle, carbon monoxide poisoning from generators appears to have killed more people in Louisiana and Texas than Hurricane Laura itself. It claimed eight lives along the Gulf Coast, an area that the storm damaged several buildings and left 500,000 without power.

Here's more from the Chronicle:

While the exact death toll from the destruction left by Laura remains unclear — 12 fatalities in Texas and Louisiana combined are reported so far — the number of carbon monoxide deaths alarmed local officials who warn that while generators can be lifesaving appliances during natural disasters, they can also be harmful when not used safely.
The first reported carbon monoxide deaths happened in Lake Charles, where the storm did much of its damage. A family of five had a generator running in the garage after losing power but left a door to the home partially open, allowing gas to get inside.
At a Friday morning news conference in Lake Charles, Fire Chief Shawn Caldwell called the deaths “troubling” and “scary,” and pleaded with the public to use generators safely. Homeowners sometimes run them inside houses to keep them from potentially being stolen. “Guys, keep it away from your home,” Caldwell said, “Don’t let a generator cost your life.”

Most of the dangers come from generators being run indoors in places with poor ventilation. The effect is similar to running a car in a closed garage.

Here's what the Chronicle says about the dangers of CO and why generators are so precarious:

Consumer Reports says users should never run a generator in an enclosed space. It should be kept at least 20 feet from the home, with the exhaust directed away from the building. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas emitted by many portable generators. The National Institutes of Health say the gas can prove lethal in as little as five minutes by impeding the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.
“People are running generators indoors through very poorly ventilated areas,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Friday. “That is just an ultra-hazardous thing to do. So I’m encouraging everybody: Until the lights come back on, please don’t do that.”  

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