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Portable Generator Users Beware-Dangerous Exposure to Poisonous Carbon Monoxide Likely

PROPUBLICA December 17, 2021 6am EST “Carbon Monoxide From Generators Poisons Thousands of People a Year. The U.S. Has Failed to Force Safety Changes.” Co-Published with the Texas Tribune by Perla Trevizo, Lexi Churchill and Ron Larsone from PROPUBLICA and Mick Hixenbaugh and Suzy Khimm-NBC News

Read the PROPUBLICA article for all the details.

Summary by 2244

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All generators including portable generators have many uses including powering some of one’s household when power from the grid is unavailable as the result of a weather or local event. Safe use though requires learning about and setting up the generator according to safe operating conditions. Improperly operated generators “injure thousands…they kill an average of 70” Americans each year. A single generator “can emit as much carbon monoxide as 450 cars.” The danger of using these generators is well known “but regulations that would force companies to reduce generators’ carbon monoxide emissions, which is the key systematic change to reduce danger, and make the machines safer have been stymied under a statutory process that empowers manufacturers to regulate themselves.” Reportedly about 60% of new devices have installed “carbon monoxide sensors that automatically shut engines off when high levels of the colorless, odorless gas are detected in an enclosed space.” Opponents say this remedy falls short and that “not all manufacturers have adopted the change.” At the local level, “many states and localities do not require carbon monoxide detectors in every residence, and emergency departments are at times ill-equipped to respond to these” carbon monoxide poisonings.”

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) “has tracked 1,300 deaths from generators over the past two decades” most of the deaths occur after weather-related power outages-when people are stressed and “vulnerable.” “Industry officials dispute the notion that their products are dangerous, particularly when people follow safety guidelines.” “The machines should only be operated outdoors, at least 20 feet away from homes, with the exhaust pointed away from windows and doors according to CPSC.” Of course having installed carbon monoxide detectors in homes reduces the risk of poisoning from portable generators and other potential sources of carbon monoxide-furnaces etc.

The CPSC is bound by Congress to suggest “voluntary safety standards” to industry and generator makers have resisted creating designs that spew out much lower levels of carbon monoxide. CPSC has been effective only in getting labels added to generators that warn that “using a generator indoors ‘CAN KILL YOU IN MINUTES”-an improvement that “did not result in fewer deaths.” But a prototype generator using a fuel injection system capable of reducing carbon monoxide by 90% had industry leaders “arguing that the upgrades were too expensive and that the prototype wasn’t reliable. Later one manufacturer confirmed the utility of such a system but industry has stalled the conversion while they search for their own ways to reduce carbon monoxide. Regulators have sided with the manufacturers.

Some makers now offer better safety for a price. “Consumers can buy [a Generac] with no safety upgrades for $1069, or pay $110 more for one that comes with a CO shut-off switch and a 25-foot extension cord to make it easier for users to operate the machine a safe distance from their homes.” Others remark that in some neighborhoods operating outside at 25 feet is just not doable “and most generator models aren’t designed to run in the rain or snow, leading some users to bring them inside attached garages or onto covered patios.”

Some federal legislative efforts have been unsuccessfully introduced to Congress. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) is quoted as remarking “The fact that there is currently no federal safety standard for generators is totally unacceptable.” Company’s stand to profit, Aaron Jagdfeld (CEO Generac) comments “that a major power outage can boost the company’s sales by $50 million.” Tami Kou (Generac Spokesperson) said “By 2023…100% of [their] portable generators will be equipped with shut-off sensors” toeing the line that [shut-off sensors] are the most effective method for reducing unintentional CO poisonings…”


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