Friday, December 19, 2008

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Portable Generators

The graphic posted on this blog post shows the proper placement of a portable gasoline-powered generator. The photos on the 12/14/08 blog post are a few of the 30 or so photos I took of generators in southern Maine during last week's ice storm. They are all NOT properly placed because they are not far enough away from the houses.

So far we have tallied over 30 people in Maine with documented carbon monoxide poisoning from last week's storm. Preliminary analysis indicates that the vast majority were associated with misplaced generators. And, my own perusal of southern Maine indicates that is quite common. In fact, out of the 30 photos I took, not one is of a properly-placed generator! Consider a few facts:

Carbon Monoxide = CO is an odorless, tasteless, invisible and deadly gas.
CO is created from any combustion or burning of fuel.

In Maine, we have on average 150 people per year seen in emergency departments for CO poisoning, and 1 - 5 deaths.

The Maine 1998 ice storm - 2 deaths from CO poisoning, and well over 100 people were seen for CO poisoning in hospital emergency departments, mostly associated with the use of gasoline generators.

What can we do?

1. Know that gasoline-powered generators make a LOT of deadly carbon monoxide gas – one portable generator can produce the same amount of CO as 100 idling cars!! (

2. NEVER operate a generator in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space such as a basement, garage, barn, or enclosed porch. Doing so may send you and your family to the hospital and may even kill you.

3. Place generators outside far away (at least 20 feet) from any doors and windows that may allow CO gas back into the house, and make sure the exhaust is directed away from the house. Buy an appropriate electrical cord sufficiently long.

4. Keep generator and your hands dry to avoid electrocution. Many people use a canopy-like structure on a dry surface where water cannot reach the generator. It is important to plan ahead on where and how to place a generator safely outside of your home.

5. Have a working battery-operated CO alarm, especially if you have a generator. Only about 1/3 - 1/2 of Maine homes have a CO detector at all.

6. Do not use cooking equipment for heating inside - such as grills, stoves, or ovens.

7. Know that CO symptoms are: flu-like symptoms - headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness - plus confusion and loss of consciousness. Some may have shortness of breath, palpitations, or chest pain. Often multiple people and pets are sick at the same time.

8. If the CO alarm goes off and you have symptoms, call 911 and get everyone

9. If you have questions call the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

A battery-operated CO detector makes a wonderful Christmas or Hanukkah gift!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On December 1st, the 20th Anniversary of World AIDS Day, Governor Baldacci and Dr. Mills joined Andrew Bossie, the Executive Director of the Maine AIDS Alliance and a number of others in the State House Hall of Flags for an event marked by celebration, somber remembrances, and a garnering of leadership.

We celebrated that life expectancy for those diagnosed with AIDS has increased from 4 months for those diagnosed 20 years ago to 8 years and climbing for those diagnosed now. We remembered the hundreds of Mainers who have died of AIDS over the years. And, we garnered political, health, and faith-based leadership to address the challenges faced by the estimated 1,600 Mainers diagnosed with HIV and to prevent the further spread of the infection.

I felt privileged to play a role in this day, and met some incredible Mainers with inspiring stories!

For more information on AIDS

Maine CDC HIV Website:

Maine AIDS Alliance:



Heating Crisis in Maine

We have been quite busy the past few weeks with budget deliberations, the annual fall public health and medical conferences and meetings, and addressing some public health brushfires (hepatitis A outbreak, etc) that are exacerbated by a staffing shortage.

Despite these challenges, it is important we continue to address emerging health issues. One of these is the current heating and economic crisis. Mainers are more dependent on oil for heating their homes than any other state. So, the current economic and heating crisis has a number of public health ramifications.

Three ramifications are the focus of a recent health advisory: carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia, and respiratory health secondary to wood-burning. This health advisory and other fact sheets and information can be found on our Stay Healthy This Winter webpage at:

Additionally, Maine CDC funded a telephone survey this fall of about 32,000 Mainers on a variety of heating and energy issues, including on transportation, carbon monoxide, and commuting issues. The results of this survey, along with district results, can also be found on the Stay Healthy This Winter webpage.

Our epidemiologists are also tracking more intensely illness and deaths due to these three major issues - hypothermia, carbon monoxide, and respiratory health. The information gathered and resulting analyses we hope will inform future efforts.

We hope these materials and efforts can help the many Maine organizations and people who are working hard on assuring a safety net for people this winter. Let us know if there are additional ideas you have!