Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Threatens During Power Outages
With record-breaking storms hitting eastern Washington hard,
the threat of extended power outages is a real concern. The Spokane Regional
Health District is urging everyone to be mindful of the risks that accompany
being without power.
"When the power goes out,
people just want to stay warm and get a hot meal," said Mark Springer,
Epidemiologist for Spokane Regional Health District. "But some of the tools we
use to do that might do us a lot of damage instead. Poisoning from carbon
monoxide is a real threat, as is getting sick from perishable food that has not
been kept as cold as it should have been."
Last year, during the Seattle
area's winter storms, several people died from breathing carbon monoxide produced
by a heating source meant to be used only outside, in fresh air. Carbon
monoxide gas is odorless and is produced when fuels such as gasoline, propane,
oil, kerosene, natural gas, coal or wood are burned. Many people have carbon
monoxide detectors in their homes, but these usually won't work without
electricity. To avoid poisoning:
During a power outage or
at any other time, do not operate fuel-powered machinery such as a
generator indoors, including in the garage
Do not cook or heat with
charcoal barbeques inside your home
Avoid using combustion
"space heaters" unless there is an exhaust vent.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include a splitting
headache, nausea and vomiting, and lethargy and fatigue. If you think carbon
monoxide might be affecting you, get fresh air immediately. Call for medical
help from a neighbor's home. Don't go back inside your house until the Fire
Department tells you it is safe.
If the power goes out in your home, there are steps you can
take to keep food safe to eat for as long as possible. Try to keep the doors
closed on your refrigerators and freezers as much as possible. This keeps the
cold air inside. A full freezer can stay at freezing temperatures about 2 days;
a half-full freezer about 1 day.
If you think the power will be
out for several days, try to find some ice to pack inside your refrigerator.
Remember to keep your raw foods separate from your ready-to-eat foods.
Refrigerated foods should be safe as long as the power is out no more than a
few hours and the refrigerator/freezer doors have been kept closed. Potentially
hazardous foods should be discarded if they warm up above 41º F.
Frozen foods that remain
frozen are not a risk. If potentially hazardous foods are thawed, but are still
cold or have ice crystals on them, you should use them as soon as possible. If
potentially hazardous foods are thawed and are warmer than 41º F, you should
discard them. When in doubt, throw it out!