Skip to main content

Be Ready When Storms Hit – Protect Your Family This Hurricane Season with CPSC’s Life-Saving Tips: African Americans at Higher Risk of Dying of CO Poisoning from Portable Generators

Release Date: May 11, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C. – June 1 marks the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is warning consumers about the increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning, fires and electric shock that can happen as a result of hurricanes and severe storms.

More storms on average

Following the record-setting and devastating 2020 hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts that the average Atlantic hurricane season will reflect more storms.  NOAA has increased the averages for the Atlantic hurricane season from 12 to 14 named storms and from 6 to 7 hurricanes beginning this year.  The average for major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5) remains at 3.  NOAA’s forecast for this Hurricane season has not yet been released.

Colorado State University forecasts a more dire storm and hurricane picture – 17 named storms, 8 hurricanes and 4 major hurricanes for this year.

“Millions of Americans who are still dealing with the stress of the global COVID-19 pandemic also live in regions prone to devastating hurricanes and severe storms,” said CPSC Acting Chairman Robert Adler.  “It only takes one hurricane to cause massive destruction and loss of life.  Be prepared, stay informed, and keep safe before and after storms.”

Consumers need to be especially vigilant when storms knock out their electrical power.  Many use portable generators as a source of power, exposing themselves to increased risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and fire.  CO is called the invisible killer because it is colorless and odorless.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 400 people die each year in the United States from CO poisoning.

CPSC data show African Americans are at higher risk of death

While not solely from storm use, there were 78 deaths on average each year between 2015 and 2017, from CO poisoning associated with generators, according to CPSC’s latest report.  Non-Hispanic Black or African Americans are at higher risk, accounting for 22 percent of these generator-related CO deaths from 2009 through 2019, which is nearly double their estimated 13 percent share of the U.S. population.

Poisonous carbon monoxide from a portable generator can kill you and your family in minutes.  Follow CPSC’s safety tips below to help keep your family safe before and after storms:

Before the Storm

  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup in your home, outside separate sleeping areas, and on each floor of your home.
  • Place smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside each bedroom and outside sleeping areas.
  • Press the test button every month to make sure CO and smoke alarms in your home are working properly, and replace batteries, if needed.
  • Check that your generator has had proper maintenance, and read and follow the labels, instructions, and warnings on the generator and the owner’s manual.
  • Stock up on flashlights and extra batteries to provide light if the power goes out.

After the Storm

Once the storm has hit, and the power is out, now what?

  • Use portable generators OUTSIDE ONLY, at least 20 feet away from the house; and direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home and any other buildings that someone could enter.
  • NEVER operate a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace, shed or on the porch.  Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO.
  • CO poisoning from portable generators can happen so quickly that exposed persons may become unconscious before recognizing the symptoms of nausea, dizziness or weakness.
  • Never ignore carbon monoxide and smoke alarms when they sound.  Get outside immediately.  Then call 911.

Other product safety hazards during hurricane season include:

CHARCOAL DANGER:

- Never use charcoal indoors.  Burning charcoal in an enclosed space can produce lethal levels of carbon monoxide.  Do not cook on a charcoal grill in a garage, even with the door open.

CANDLES:

Use flashlights instead of candles.  If you must use candles, do not burn them on or near anything that can catch fire.  Never leave burning candles unattended.  Extinguish candles when you leave the room and before sleeping.

WET APPLIANCES:

- Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet.  Discard unplugged electrical or gas appliances that have been wet because they pose electric shock and fire hazards.  Do not touch electrical or gas appliances that are still plugged in.

- Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate your home and replace all gas control valves, electrical wiring, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.

GAS LEAKS: IF YOU SMELL IT, LEAVE, THEN REPORT IT.

If you smell or hear gas, do not turn lights on or off, or use electrical equipment, including a phone.  Leave your home and contact local gas authorities from outside.

Remember, it only takes one storm to wreak havoc causing mass destruction and loss of life.  Stay informed, be prepared and keep safe!

CPSC resources:

Carbon Monoxide Safety Center

NSN Poster – Safety in the Storm, When Hurricanes Happen

PSA - Hurricane Season is in Full Swing

Link to broadcast quality video for media:  https://spaces.hightail.com/space/XtFQ7YqK0x

CPSC spokespeople are available for interviews.  Email nnye@cpsc.gov or call 240-204-4410 to arrange for an interview.

Release Number
21-131

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $1 trillion annually. CPSC’s work to ensure the safety of consumer products has contributed to a decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 40 years.

Federal law bars any person from selling products subject to a publicly-announced voluntary recall by a manufacturer or a mandatory recall ordered by the Commission.

For lifesaving information:

Media Contact

Please use the below phone number for all media requests.

Phone: (301) 504-7908
Spanish: (301) 504-7800

View CPSC contacts for specific areas of expertise

SaferProducts.gov