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From Products Liability Law Daily, December 20, 2013

Report finds that majority of CO deaths are caused by portable gas generators

By Joe Bichl

Portable generators were involved in the majority of carbon monoxide deaths involving engine-driven tools (EDTs) from 1999 through 2012, according to a new study released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The report, “Incidents, Deaths, and In-Depth Investigations Associated with Non-Fire Carbon Monoxide from Engine-Driven Generators and Other Engine-Driven Tools, 1999–2012,” found that portable generators were linked to more than 85 percent of non-fire CO deaths associated with gas-powered portable generators, or 800 out of 931 deaths, during that period. Most of the deaths have occurred since 2005, following Hurricane Katrina and a series of winter ice storms, according to the report (CPSC News Release, No. 14-068, December 19, 2013).

The scope of the report included four areas of interest, including: (1) reported number of fatalities by engine-driven tool type; (2) socio-demographics of victims and EDT use patterns; (3) alarm usage; and (4) hazard patterns associated with generators.

Some of the findings in the report include:

  • 74 percent of fatalities occurred at fixed-structure homes, with many incidents involving generators being operated indoors, in a non-basement living space. The report notes that the exhaust from portable generators has high levels of carbon monoxide that can be fatal very quickly when used inside the home or garage.

  • CPSC’s report also looked at carbon monoxide-related incidents and deaths involving other engine-driven tools, such as lawnmowers, power washers, and yard trimmers, and found 126 CO deaths with engine-driven tools other than generators.

  • African Americans died at nearly twice their proportion of the population. In fact, the report indicated that 23 percent of generator-related fatalities involved African Americans while African Americans make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population.

  • Men accounted for 97 percent of the CO deaths from engine-driven tools.

  • A carbon monoxide alarm was present in about eight percent of the cases involving a CO death with engine-driven tools; most of the alarms were not functioning at the time of the incidents.

  • Half of the generator-related deaths happened in the four coldest months of the year, November through February, because of generator use during power outages.

CPSC stated in a news release that it continues to pursue a regulatory remedy to make portable generators safer for consumers. In 2006, the agency issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to address the carbon monoxide poisoning hazard associated with portable generators. In 2007, it voted to require that manufacturers place a prominent “danger” label on newly manufactured or imported portable generators with a warning, “Using a generator indoors can KILL YOU IN MINUTES.”

MainStory: TopStory CPSCNews HouseholdProductsNews

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