As summer approaches and Mainers start opening up their camps for the season, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention warns of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Health officials urge camp owners to make sure their propane-fueled stoves and refrigerators are working properly and vented safely when turned on for the season. Camp owners should make sure they have working carbon monoxide detectors equipped with a battery back-up located close to where people sleep. Most hardware stores or places that sell smoke detectors also carry carbon monoxide detectors.
"This is the time of year when we start to get reports of people poisoned in their camps from high levels of carbon monoxide," said state toxicologist, Dr. Andrew Smith. "Usually, blocked exhaust vents or poorly maintained gas-fueled appliances are the culprits. Unfortunately, some of the poisonings are life-threatening."
Boaters are also at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning, Smith said. Carbon monoxide is present in the exhaust of inboard and outboard motors. Gasses can build to dangerous levels in areas just behind the boat. Boaters should stay away from exhaust vent areas, like the back platform. They should not swim in these areas when the motor is on.
Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless and colorless gas created by any combustion engine or device. Improper venting, maintenance, operation or placement of combustion devices can result in poisoning when CO gas builds up in enclosed spaces and in garages, barns and sheds—even if the doors and windows are open.
There are more than 100 emergency department visits each year in Maine due to carbon monoxide poisoning, Smith said.
The Me-CDC estimates that the overall number of households with detectors is increasing and that about half of owner-occupied homes now have them. Yet, in 90 percent of reported carbon monoxide poisonings, there are no carbon monoxide detectors present where the poisonings occur. Maine law requires carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in all rental units, including seasonal rentals, and new single family dwellings. Detectors are also required in existing single-family dwellings whenever there is a transfer of ownership or an addition of one or more bedrooms. The law applies to camps and seasonal homes as well.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning this summer:
- Make sure gas-powered appliances in your camp are working and vented properly.
- Don't use a gas-powered generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gas- or charcoal-burning device inside your camp or near a window or door. Generators should be more than 15 feet from your home when running. -Don't run a car, truck, lawn mower, tractor or any other motor inside a garage, barn or shed, even if you leave the door open.
- Make sure you have a CO detector with a battery back-up in your camp near where people sleep. Check or replace the battery during your first visit.
- If your CO alarm goes off, get out right away and call 911. Get prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
Additional Background on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Carbon monoxide can starve body tissues of the oxygen they need to work. Warning signs of poisoning can be confused with illness, intoxication or motion sickness. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, and confusion, but no fever. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma and death.
- Each year in Maine, there are more than 100 emergency department visits and between one and five deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. In 90 percent of the cases, there are no carbon monoxide detectors present where the poisonings occur. For Maine CDC data on carbon monoxide poisonings visit the Maine Tracking Network: https://tracking.publichealth.maine.gov
- For information on the State law requiring carbon monoxide detectors: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/bills/bills_124th/chappdfs/PUBLIC162.pdf