Maine CDC Reminds Residents to Avoid Asphyxiating Themselves Before They’re Able to Burn Their House Down

Maine state-of-the-art fire engine. Maine news from the Rumford Meteor

Maine state-of-the-art fire engine. Maine news from the Rumford MeteorAUGUSTA – As Mainers head to camps, pull out their grills, and put boats in the water for the first time this season, health officials of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (MeCDC) have issued an advisory to raise awareness of the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and how best to prevent it.

“Each year, we see a handful of poisonings and most could have been avoided,” said Dr. Sheila Pinette, director of the Me CDC. “You have to know how to prevent yourself from getting poisoned by carbon monoxide so a day of fun doesn’t become a day of tragedy,” said Pinette.

Spring and summer activities often put people in danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. “In past summers, we’ve seen several poisonings as a result of blocked venting for propane refrigerators that many people have in their camps,” said Andrew Smith, state toxicologist.

Other risky situations include repairing small engines in garages, barns, or sheds; swimming behind a boat or hanging off the ski deck while the motor is running; and using charcoal grills in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces, Smith said.

Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas. Because you cannot see, smell or taste it, warning signs of poisoning can be confused with illness, intoxication or motion sickness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning this summer, the MeCDC recommends the following:

  • At camp: Check vents for propane-powered appliances in your camp and make sure appliances are working the right way. Make sure you have a working CO detector in your camp near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery each summer. If your CO alarm goes off, get outside right away and call 911.
  • Off-roading: If you get stuck in mud or water, immediately check if the exhaust is blocked. If it is, carbon monoxide could build up inside an enclosed vehicle to deadly levels in just a few minutes. Get everyone out of the vehicle. Get as much fresh air into vehicle as you can. Getting back into the vehicle could be extremely dangerous.
  • Engine repair: Don’t leave vehicles or any other gas-powered motors running inside a garage or other enclosed space, even if you leave the windows and doors open.
  • While boating: Stay away from the boat’s exhaust areas, like the back platform. Don’t swim behind the boat when the motor is on.
  • Cooking out: Don’t use a charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gas or charcoal-burning device inside a camp, tent, home, enclosed porch or garage or near a window or door.
  • Get prompt medical attention: If you think you are getting poisoned and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseous.

Additional Background on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

  • Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless and colorless gas created by engines and appliances that burn fuel such as gasoline, propane or kerosene. Improper venting, maintenance, operation or placement of these engines or appliances can result in poisoning when CO builds up in enclosed spaces—even if the doors and windows are open.
  • Each year in Maine, there are about 100 emergency department visits and between one and five deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. In 90 percent of the cases, there are no carbon monoxide detectors present where the poisonings occur. For Maine CDC data on carbon monoxide poisonings visit the Maine Tracking Network:
  • Half of Maine homes have carbon monoxide detectors. Maine law requires CO detectors in all rental units, including seasonal rentals, and new single family homes. Detectors are also required in existing single-family homes whenever there is a transfer of ownership or an addition of one or more bedrooms. The law applies to camps and seasonal homes as well. For information on the State law requiring carbon monoxide detectors:

May 24, 2013
Human Services

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