FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 13, 2015

NJ Department of Community Affairs and NJ Department of Health Reissue Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Tips in the Wake of Recent Tragedies 

Trenton, NJ – The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) and the New Jersey Department of Health are reissuing cautions related to portable generators following the tragic incident in the City of East Orange where a young mother and daughter died from fumes that came from a gas generator used inside the home without proper ventilation. A similar incident recently took place in Maryland where a family of eight succumbed to possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

"There have been a number of tragedies from the use of portable generators," said DCA Acting Commissioner Charles A. Richman. "We simply want to remind everyone that the accumulation of carbon monoxide gas is deadly.  It is very important that people heed these precautions to ensure they do not become a victim of a preventable accident."   

No one, under any circumstances, should be operating a portable generator or any other combustion-driven device in an enclosed area, least of all a dwelling.

On average, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 170 people die from non-automotive CO poisoning, including furnaces, ranges, water heaters, portable generators and area heaters each year.

"Carbon Monoxide often is called the ‘silent killer’ because you can't see, smell, taste, or hear it," said NJ Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd. "Exposure to low levels of CO can cause headaches, sleepiness, confusion and irritability. However, exposure to carbon monoxide from generators is preventable, and everyone should learn the basics of generator safety."  

There are symptoms of CO poisoning that everyone should recognize and that signal the degree of exposure. Early symptoms may mimic the flu without the fever and can include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

A life-threatening exposure can include these symptoms:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death

The following steps should be taken to avoid becoming a victim of CO poisoning:

  • Have your home heating systems (including chimneys and vents) inspected and serviced annually by a trained service technician.
  • Never use portable generators inside homes or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Use generators outside only, far away from the home.
  • Never bring a charcoal grill into the house for heating or cooking.                                      
  • Do not barbeque in the garage.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating.
  • Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home outside separate sleeping areas.

If you think you or someone in your family has CO poisoning:

  • Call 9-1-1 immediately if a person is not breathing, is unconscious or unresponsive, or is having seizures or convulsions.
  • Leave the home/building/enclosed space immediately.
  • From a safe area, call your local fire department.
  • Call NJ Poison Information at 1-800-222-1222 for immediate treatment advice.

The Department of Health provided the New Jersey Poison Information and Education System (NJPIES) with $400,000 in funding as part of a two-year Social Services Block Grant from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services in 2013. The funding has allowed NJPIES to continue 24/7 availability of and access to poison intervention specialists via telephone. The grant also funded the creation of storm-related educational materials and training sessions with local health departments on environmental health hazards - including CO poisoning.

The DCA’s Division of Fire Safety serves as the central fire service agency in the State. The Division is responsible for the development and enforcement of the State Uniform Fire Code, as well as for implementing public education and firefighter training programs.

Tammori Petty or
Emike Omogbai
(609) 292-6055

Dawn Thomas
NJ Department of Health
(609) 984-7160