Thursday, November 17, 2005

Article in Mobile Press Register features CO Poisoning and Generators

Julio Garcia, CHT, Director of the Hyperbaric Center at Springhill Hospital in Mobile Alabama writes and sends an article that was published in the Mobile Press Register today:

"CDC reviews poisonings related to use of generators
Thursday, November 17, 2005
Staff Reporter

The high number of carbon monoxide poisonings treated at a local hospital after Hurricane Katrina has captured the attention of two scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And they've interviewed local victims to develop more effective ways of educating the public about the dangers associated with improper use of portable generators.

Renee Funk, an epidemiologist with the Atlanta-based CDC, and Deidre Crocker, an epidemiological intelligence officer with the agency, spent two weeks in Mobile earlier this month interviewing several of the more than 20 patients who were treated at Springhill Medical Center for carbon monoxide poisoning following the Aug. 29 storm.

A colorless, odorless gas, carbon monoxide can be lethal when it accumulates in small enclosed areas. Such situations are more likely to arise when storms such as Katrina trigger widespread power outages, causing people to turn to portable generators.

In the days after Katrina, the hyperbaric medicine department at Springhill became packed with carbon monoxide victims, said Julio Garcia, a registered nurse and director of the department. The hospital uses its hyperbaric chamber to treat those poisoned from carbon monoxide with pressurized oxygen.

While some of the ill people had operated generators inside their homes, Funk and Crocker discovered that other victims thought they had placed generators in safe areas.

"So many poisonings had occurred, even though people knew not to keep them indoors. That's one of our concerns," Funk said. "Most people had them in carports or porches."

Garcia, who worked with the CDC scientists and local health department officials during their review of the situation, said he was surprised by some of the information that they uncovered.

"What we found to be the biggest contributing (factor) is that it is not well-defined what is a well-ventilated area," Garcia said. "It not as simple as you think. Really ... they thought they were doing the right thing."

In a number of cases, people put generators in covered areas close to their homes to protect them from rain, or placed them in nearby outdoor areas to guard against theft, Garcia said.

A generator that's too close to a house-- especially near an open window or vent -- poses dangers because of the high concentrations of gas that it emits.

"They actually produce more carbon monoxide than a car," Funk said.

Funk and Crocker said they will use the information they gathered in Mobile to encourage more public awareness campaigns about generator safety. For instance, out of all the Mobile-area victims they interviewed, few said they used carbon monoxide detectors while their generators were operating. Those that did have detectors had dead batteries, Funk said.

Funk and Crocker are planning on working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ensure that instructions on generators clearly explain where to keep them in proximity to a home. The epidemiologists also plan to talk to retailers, urging them to group generator-related supplies together in their stores.

"If they see the CO detector and the extra long extension cord, they are more likely to pick them all up at once," Funk said.

The Mobile County Health Department is considering holding news conferences on generator safety at the start of next year's hurricane season, according to Melissa Tucker, the department epidemiologist who worked with the CDC scientists.

"I don't know what it's going to take to make people understand that people can get hurt or killed from carbon monoxide poisoning," Tucker said."

Garcia can be contacted at these sources:

Julio R. Garcia CHT, RN
Center Director
Springhill Medical Center
The Center for Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine
(251) 461-1300/460-5461 Office
(251) 345-1556 Fax

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