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Pointers on proper use of generator sets to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning

The EcoWaste Coalition has exhorted business establishments and households in disaster-stricken areas to be aware of the hazards of misusing power generator sets after three individuals in the Bicol region recently succumbed to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

The advocacy group for a zero waste and toxics-free society shared pointers on the proper use of power generators after the police and health authorities reported last Sunday the death of three persons and the hospitalization of 10 others in Albay due to CO poisoning.

Albay is one of the provinces that bore the brunt of typhoons Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses, which caused a massive power outage prompting some businesses and households to use generator sets as a portable source of electricity.

CO, a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas, is produced when gasoline or other fuel is burned. Improperly ventilated engines like a generator set, also known as “genset,” may trigger CO to build up to dangerous levels in an enclosed space causing serious tissue damage or death if inhaled.

“Portable generators have become essential equipment for disaster-stricken communities, especially in places where power has yet to be restored,” noted Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.

“While easy to buy and simple to use, gasoline or diesel gensets may cause fatal CO poisoning from the toxic engine fumes if used indoors or in partially-enclosed spaces,” he said. Other hazards to avoid in using gensets include electric shock or electrocution, fire and burns.

Citing information from the Safety Alert published by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the group warned that gensets can produce high levels of CO within minutes when used in a confined space. To prevent CO poisoning when using power generators, the EcoWaste Coalition reiterated the following safety tips from the CPSC:

1. Never use inside a home, garage or similar area -- even if windows and doors are open – as deadly levels of CO can accumulate and linger for hours even after the genset has shut off.

2. Locate the equipment outdoors and far from windows, doors and vents that could allow CO to come indoors.

3. Follow the instructions that come with your generator.

4. Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Get to fresh air right away if you start to feel dizzy or weak.

Among the symptoms of CO poisoning, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. “If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you,” the CDC warned.

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