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Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning during power outages

The National Weather Service is warning King County residents about the possibility of high winds this week. High winds can lead to downed power lines and power outages which increases the possibility of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is produced any time fossil fuels are burned. During a power outage, the use of gas generators, outdoor grills, in carports or too close to the home can trap CO in the home and cause CO poisoning. Other possible sources of CO include small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that can cause severe illness or death. What makes it so difficult to detect is that it is odorless and colorless. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 430 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States every year. And each year, around 50,000 people go to the emergency department from CO poisoning.

Make sure carbon monoxide alarms are installed on every level of your home and outside every sleeping area.

Here are ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

  1. Use portable generators and outdoor grills outside in well-ventilated areas away from all doors, windows and vents.
  2. Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow and other debris.
  3. Never idle a car in a garage, even when the garage door is open.
  4. Make sure carbon monoxide alarms are installed on every level of your home and outside every sleeping area.
  5. Test your CO alarms along with your smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.

If the CO alarm sounds, turn off any heating appliance and open windows to get fresh air. Call 911 if you experience CO poisoning symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting, or headaches and move to fresh air immediately. If you suspect an appliance is the source, call a qualified technician to fix the problem before restarting the appliance.

Learn more:

Carbon Monoxide safety video

Public Health Seattle & King County and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Seattle Fire Department Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Handout

Washington State Department of Health CO information

Contact the Seattle Fire Department to see if you qualify for a free installed combination smoke/carbon monoxide alarm. Learn more here.