CPSC Warns Midwesterners: As Floods Subside, Other Hazards Rise

As flood waters begin to recede and residents return home, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued a warning to those affected by the floods in the Midwest. The commission notes that 334 people died from generator-related carbon monoxide poisoning from 1999-2006 and that many of the deaths occurred after major storms knocked out power. Recent data show that as use of generators has increased, so too have deaths--about 50 per year.

When there is a power outage, never use portable generators inside the home, in an attached garage, or in any other partially enclosed space, the commission warns. Generator exhaust contains high levels of colorless, odorless CO, which can kill in minutes. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO buildup in the home. Instead keep portable generators outdoors and far away from vents, windows, and other house openings so that CO does not build up indoors. If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. Exposure to CO from generators can quickly lead to incapacitation and death.

CPSC notes that because consumer-grade generators are not weatherproof, they can pose the risk of electrocution and shock when used in wet conditions, so keep generators dry. Wait for the rain to pass before using a generator, and do not connect the generator directly into your home's electrical system through a receptacle outlet--this is an extremely dangerous practice that poses a fire hazard and an electrocution hazard to utility workers and neighbors served by the same transformer. If using a generator, plug individual appliances into heavy duty, outdoor-rated extension cords and plug cords into the generator.

Other precautions from the commission include

  • Discard mattresses, wicker furniture, straw baskets, and the like that have been water damaged. These cannot be recovered by washing or cleaning procedures.
  • Throw out wet room-size carpets, drapes, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys, ceiling tiles, and anything that can't be picked up and cleaned by dry cleaning, steam cleaning, or put in a washing machine or dryer. Microorganisms may grow in water-damaged furniture, carpets, and other products and may cause allergic reactions and infections. For more information, go to www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/425.html
  • Remove and replace wet insulation.
  • Look for signs that your appliances have gotten wet. Discard electrical or gas appliances that have been wet because they pose electric shock and fire hazards.
  • Before using your appliances, have a professional or your gas or electric company evaluate your home and replace all gas control valves, circuit breakers, and fuses that have been under water.
  • Medicines and chemicals should be thrown away. Water may have infected the integrity of the medicine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers additional safety tips. For more information, go to www.hhs.gov/news/broadcast/2005/CrawfordMedicationSafety.html.
  • Young children and water don't mix. Watch children around buckets, tubs, and standing water in and around the home. Even small amounts of water can be a drowning hazard.

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