"We always worry about carbon monoxide poisoning in times of storms and bad weather, when people do things like use portable generators too close to their doors or windows. Unfortunately, it can also happen in beautiful weather when people are enjoying the great outdoors, but where equipment is in poor repair or used improperly," said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. "CO is a silent killer you cannot see, smell or taste. Follow all manufacturers' directions for safe use of generators and other devices that burn fuels and use carbon monoxide detectors in places like boats, RVs and campers to help prevent illness and death from CO poisoning."
CO is a gas produced by generators, portable heaters, gas stoves and other devices that is dangerous and potentially deadly if inhaled. In 2011, five Tennesseans were killed after the recreational vehicle they rented filled with carbon monoxide from a nearby generator.
In campers and RVs, items that emit carbon monoxide include built-in or portable generators, gas-powered heaters, gas ranges or ovens, portable camp stoves and gas water heaters. The carbon monoxide emitted can build up in enclosed, semi-enclosed or poorly-ventilated spaces, poisoning people and animals who breathe it. On boats, gasoline-powered engines including onboard generators produce carbon monoxide. This can be dangerous to people swimming underneath rear swim platforms where CO can accumulate.
"We recommend carbon monoxide detectors as important tools to prevent CO poisoning," said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD, director of the TDH Communicable and Environmental Disease and Emergency Preparedness division. "CO poisoning often occurs when people are sleeping. CO monitors are widely available at home and hardware stores and can provide an early warning before the gas reaches a dangerous level in your RV, camper or boat."
Follow these tips to help prevent CO poisoning:
• Inspect the RV's generator exhaust system regularly, at least before each outing.
• Test the vehicle's carbon monoxide detector every time you use an RV.
• When the RV is parked, be aware of nearby vehicles that may be using generators.
• When parking, make sure exhaust gases can easily blow away from the vehicle.
• Never use a gas generator inside a home, garage, carport, basement, crawlspace, tent or camper
• Never use a gas generator less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent.
• Never use a gas range or oven for heating. This can cause a build-up of CO inside the camper, cabin or home.
• Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors.
• Never burn charcoal indoors.
Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and confusion. Breathing high levels of CO can cause loss of consciousness or even death.
If carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected, turn off possible sources of the gas. Any person who has been exposed to excessive CO should go outside immediately to get fresh air. If someone is unconscious, open doors and windows to bring in fresh air. If you or anyone else is sick due to a CO exposure, call 911 immediately. For other questions about carbon monoxide poisoning, call the Tennessee Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.