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Portable generators are internal combustion engines used to generate electricity. People use generators when electricity is not available, such as during power outages or when camping. Generators are also used for temporary or remote power during recovery efforts after a disaster.

Commercial generators are designed to help prevent service interruptions at critical infrastructure facilities, such as hospitals, utility facilities, and emergency response agencies. Portable generators made for household use are designed to provide temporary power to operate a few appliances or lights.

Although useful, especially during emergencies and recovery situations, generators must be used with caution because, as fuel burning appliances, generators will emit carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide, also known simply as "CO", is a highly toxic invisible gas formed when fuel is burned. It cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Breathing high levels of carbon monoxide can cause sudden illness or death in a matter of minutes. On-going exposure to lower, but still dangerous levels, can cause people to become ill. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are nonspecific and are like those of a cold or flu. Common ailments include headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and nausea or digestive issues.

Other safety issues include electrical problems and fires which is a concern in the home, recreation, hobbies, and for many occupations.
Portable generators are useful when temporary or remote electrical power is needed, like when the power goes out due to storms or when camping. However, using these require some safety measures to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning because generators create carbon monoxide gas in their exhaust. Breathing in carbon monoxide is harmful.

  • Never use a generator in an enclosed area or near garage, shed, camper, tent, boat, barn, stable, cabin or spiritual/ceremonial structures.
  • Always run your generator outside, at least 20 feet from any home, camper, tent, or buildings with exhaust hoses pointing away from people and structures. While you move it away from your home or camping site, make sure you do not move it near another home or camping site.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of your home. Use battery-powered detectors when you are inside other structures where you will be using gas-powered tools and generators.

Portable generators are internal combustion engines used to generate electricity. Although useful outdoor appliances, generators are a common source of carbon monoxide and present some other hazards including fires or electrical problems when precautions are not taken.

The primary environmental health concern when using generators is risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a toxic gas that you cannot see or smell. The gas is given off whenever fuel or other carbon-based materials are burned. Breathing high levels of it causes carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause severe illness or death in just minutes.

Although carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented, every year, people in the United States die as a result of accidental, non-fire related exposure to this toxic gas and annually many people require emergency medical care for illness caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.

Other safety concerns include electrical problems, fires, and improper fuel storage. Generators are often used on worksites so occupational safety is a concern.

The surveillance of carbon monoxide poisoning in New Mexico is conducted in partnership with the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center (NMPDIC) and New Mexico Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau, Epidemiology and Response Division of the New Mexico Department of Health.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Data and Prevention Information

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a reportable (notifiable) condition in the state of New Mexico. Hospitals, clinics, practitioners, and first responders should immediately report any suspected carbon monoxide poisoning by calling 1-800 -222-1222 (NMPDIC), or 505-827-0006. The public should also contact the NMPDIC if they suspect CO poisoning for life-saving emergency treatment information.

Occupational injuries or illness are reportable (notifiable) conditions in the state of New Mexico. This includes occupational burn hospitalizations. Worksite injuries or illnesses must be reported to 505 827-0006 to the Occupational Health Surveillance Program. Labs may be faxed to 505 827-0013 Attn: EHEB On-Call.

Content written, curated, or designed by Deyonne Sandoval in 2019 for NM EPHT with contributions from Stephanie Moraga-McHaley and the CDC's National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network Program and Marketing Outreach Workgroup. Updated December 2019. Data is collected, analyzed and processed by epidemiologists within the New Mexico Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (NM EPHT). NM EPHT, in partnership with the programs within the Environmental Health Epidemiology Bureau and the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center, responds to public health concerns and educates the public and stakeholders about carbon monoxide poisoning.

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Content updated: Mon, 30 Dec 2019 09:50:54 MST