The Checkout

Generating Safety

Every summer, just before hurricane season starts, the government issues a safety alert about portable generators, warning that their misuse could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning and death. The alert is usually repeated after every major storm.

But these warnings don't appear to be sufficient based on the climbing number of deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators. Between 2000 and 2005, there have been at least 216 such deaths, of which 64 occurred last year. That was the highest number ever, but not surprising given last year's horrific storms as well as the growing sales for generators.

Now, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has decided it's time for the agency to be more proactive. It is proposing a new, stronger warning label for portable generators and has launched a study into other ways carbon monoxide deaths can be minimized. Perhaps that study could lead to a federal rule requiring generator manufacturers to develop a product that emits less carbon monoxide in the future. But that option, if it comes, is years away since the CPSC has rarely moved quickly in adopting new federal rules.

The proposed generator warning label

Even the proposed new warning label is far from final. It still has to go through an official rulemaking process. That can take several months even if everyone agrees the label is a good thing, which right now seems to be the case.

"The amount of carbon monoxide emitted from a portable generator can be up to several hundred times that released by a modern car's exhaust and can kill consumers in a very short period of time," said CPSC's acting chairman Nancy A. Nord in a statement issued this week, announcing the agency's proposed warning label.

The proposed new label tries to make that threat clearer. It no longer just says "warning," but rather "Danger." And it adds: "Using a generator indoors WILL KILL YOU IN MINUTES."

Commissioner Thomas H. Moore applauds the new label but wonders whether it should be written in other languages. Additionally, he said, "while improvements to warnings are important, warning labels, by themselves, may be insufficient as a sole means of addressing the carbon-monoxide poisoning hazard." Simple awareness of the problem, he said, "will not, in every instance, dissuade a consumer from behavior that leads to exposure to the hazard."

The public has 75 days to comment to the commission about the proposed label; comments should be sent to CPSC's Office of the Secretary at

By  |  August 23, 2006; 8:11 AM ET Consumer News
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Anyone stupid enough to run an internal-combustion engine indoors is doing the world a favor by removing themself from the gene pool.

Posted by: Richard Knickson | August 23, 2006 12:10 PM

It never actually dawned on me that there were any circumstances where you would ever even consider using such a generator indoors. To me, this is like putting a warning not to use a barbeque grill or run a gas lawn mower indoors.

Posted by: Kensington, MD | August 23, 2006 12:32 PM

I can imagine someone cranking up a generator indoors when there is a power outage due to heavy thunderstorms or snowfall. I bet there are people out there who have used barbeque grill indoors as well. People have been known to do stupider things.

Posted by: Silver Spring | August 23, 2006 1:53 PM

I've seen the BBQ in the home (a charcoal one). The worst part, when the alarms starting going off, they didn't want to get caught so they put it in the closet!!

Posted by: former firefighter | August 23, 2006 2:22 PM

Why not require the manufacturer of the generators to have a CO detector built in?

Posted by: Mike | August 23, 2006 2:32 PM

Mike says:
Why not require the manufacturer of the generators to have a CO detector built in?

Probably because it'll go off as soon as you turn it on. It's like leaving your car on in your garage with the door closed. And plenty of dumb people do that too.

Posted by: tallbear | August 23, 2006 3:21 PM

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