CPSC Issues Warning to Hurricane Victims to Prevent CO Poisonings, Electrocutions, Explosions and Fires

August 23, 1999
Release Number: 99161

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning hurricane victims that gasoline-powered generators should not be used indoors, because of the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Also, all gas control valves, electric circuit breakers, ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs), and fuses that have been under water must be replaced to avoid electrocutions, explosions and fires.

CPSC Chairman Ann Brown said, "If people use gasoline-powered generators indoors, they could die from CO poisoning. Opening doors and windows or operating fans does not guarantee safety."

CO poisoning from the use of fuel-burning appliances kills more than 200 people each year and sends about 10,000 to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.

CO is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning any fuel. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, and include dizziness, fatigue, headache, nausea and irregular breathing. Exposure to high levels of CO can cause death.

"CPSC recommends that consumers use gasoline-powered generators outdoors and away from air intakes to prevent CO poisoning," Brown said. "And every home should have at least one CO alarm that meets the requirements of the most recent Underwriters Laboratories standard 2034 or the requirements of the IAS 6-96 standard."

Replacing Flood-Damaged Gas Control Valves, Electric Circuit Breakers, GFCIs and Fuses
Even if these safety devices appear to function after being submerged in a flood, they are unfit for continued use and cannot be repaired. They may eventually fail, causing electrocutions, explosions or fires. Other parts of gas and electric appliances that have been submerged such as fans, motors, electric circuits, and venting systems should be evaluated by a qualified technician for continued safe operation. Entire appliances may need to be replaced.

Gas control valves on furnaces, water heaters, and other gas appliances that have been under water must be replaced. Silt and corrosion from flood water can damage internal components of control valves and prevent proper operation. Gas can leak and result in an explosion or fire. Gas control valves that have been under water cannot be salvaged; they must be replaced.

Electric circuit breakers, GFCIs, and fuses that have been submerged must also be replaced because water and silt inside the devices prevent them from performing properly as safety devices. Flood water and silt trapped inside circuit breakers or switches can cause electrical shorting or mechanical malfunctions. The only safe action is to discard and replace circuit breakers, GFCIs, and fuses that have been under water.

CPSC also recommends that consumers replace smoke detectors and CO alarms that have been submerged.