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New CPSC Report Finds Industry Voluntary Standards Can Reduce Risk of Carbon Monoxide Death and Injury from Portable Generators, Yet Compliance with Standards Is Minimal; Supports Mandatory Rulemaking Process

Release Date: February 23, 2022



WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of the process to issue a new mandatory rule, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has released a report that includes the agency’s analysis of the effectiveness of two industry voluntary standards in mitigating portable generator carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning hazards, and a review of compliance in the marketplace with these two standards. 

The CPSC staff report concluded that, to differing degrees, both standards mitigated the portable generator CO hazards. However, the report also found that although some portable generators meeting one of the two standards are available for sale to consumers, there was not a high level of compliance in the marketplace. CPSC staff has recommended proceeding with the mandatory rulemaking process.  

In the interim, consumers should take into consideration the findings of the report when buying or renting generators. CPSC staff analyzed more than 140,000 simulations of 511 portable generator fatalities in CPSC’s databases. The analysis found that generators compliant with the UL 2201 standard would avert nearly 100 percent of the deaths that occurred with the current, non-compliant generators, with 3 survivors predicted to require hospitalization and 22 survivors predicted to seek medical treatment and being released. The required analysis also found that generators compliant with the PGMA G300 standard would avert nearly 87 percent of those deaths, with 55 survivors predicted to require hospitalization, and 34 survivors predicted to seek medical treatment and then be released. The CPSC staff report concludes that the CO hazard-mitigation requirements of UL 2201, which include a combination of shut-off technology along with reduced CO emissions, are more effective than those of PGMA G300.  

Consumers should look for markings on packaging material and in product descriptions to determine whether a portable generator meets a voluntary standard.  

CPSC estimates that, on average, nearly 80 members of the public die each year from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning caused by portable generators. Portable generators, which many consumers use during power outages, emit very high rates of CO, which is colorless and odorless and can kill in minutes. In response, the Commission began formal rulemaking to address the CO poisoning hazards associated with this product in 2016.

Since 2008, portable generators have been associated with an estimated 790 non-fire, CO poisoning deaths (including 47 associated with a generator and some other product), accounting for 43 percent of all CO deaths related to consumer products under CPSC’s jurisdiction. While African Americans make up approximately 12 percent of the U.S. population, they suffer 22 percent of the portable generator-related CO deaths every year.

The CPSC staff report analyzed ANSI-approved UL 2201, Standard for Safety for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Emission Rate of Portable Generators, Second Edition and ANSI-approved ANSI/PGMA G300-2018 Safety and Performance of Portable Generators, (referred to as UL 2201 and PGMA G300, respectively) which both adopted CO poisoning, hazard-mitigation requirements in 2018. Both standards require generators to shut off when certain concentrations of CO are present around the generator. UL 2201 also requires a specific, relatively lower CO emission rate, compared to current generators. 

The relevant provision of the Consumer Product Safety Act prohibits issuance of a final rule if a voluntary standard exists that is likely to eliminate or adequately reduce the risk of injury associated with portable generators, and if it is likely that there will be substantial compliance with the voluntary standard by products in the marketplace. The recently released report includes a market review which found that while portable generators meeting one of the two standards are currently sold for consumer use, conformance with UL 2201 appears to be minimal and conformance with PGMA G300-2018, although greater, is still lacking for most models or units.

CPSC reminds consumers who plan to use a portable generator to follow these safety tips:  

  • Operate portable generators outside only, at least 20 feet away from the house, 
  • 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. 
  • Check that portable generators have had proper maintenance, and read and follow the labels, instructions, and warnings on the generator and in the owner’s manual.
  • When purchasing a portable generator, CPSC urges consumers to look for and ask retailers for a portable generator equipped with a safety feature to shut off automatically when high CO concentrations are present around the generator. Some models with a CO shut-off feature also have reduced emissions; consumers should look for those models as well. These models may or may not be advertised as certified to the latest safety standards for portable generators - PGMA G300-2018 and UL 2201.

CPSC has more safety resources on portable generator hazards available on the CPSC website including a newly released consumer education poster titled: Carbon Monoxide - The Invisible Killer. 

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About the U.S. CPSC
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risk of injury or death associated with the use of thousands of types of consumer products. Deaths, injuries, and property damage from consumer product-related 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 injuries associated with consumer products over the past 50 years. 

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