The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is encouraging residents impacted by the recent winter storm to stay safe when using gas-powered generators, kerosene or propane heaters, or other alternative heating or power sources.

Such equipment can cause carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning when not used properly. CO is an invisible, tasteless, odorless gas formed when fuel is burned. The only way to tell if it is present is with a CO detector.

CO can build up to deadly levels within minutes in enclosed spaces and cause death within minutes at high levels. If you suspect you may be experiencing CO poisoning, or your CO detector alarm goes off, go outside immediately and THEN call 9-1-1. 

Warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness and confusion, but not fever. CO poisoning can lead to coma and, in extreme cases, death. To prevent CO poisoning when the power is out:

  • Generators should be run at a safe distance (at least 20 feet) from the home. Never run a generator in the home, in the garage, or right next to windows or doors.
  • Never run a gasoline or propane heater or grill (gas or charcoal) inside the home or in an unventilated garage. Any heating system that burns fuel produces CO.
  • Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, you must have a door open to the outside.
  • Place a carbon monoxide detector in the hallway, outside bedrooms in all sleeping areas.

Additional preventive tips residents should follow if the power is out for an extended period of time:

  • Discard any potentially hazardous food (meat, dairy, eggs, cut melons and cooked vegetables) that has been above 41º F for four hours or more, reached a temperature of 45º F or higher for any length of time, or has an unusual color, odor or texture.
  • Wear layers of clothing to help keep in body heat.
  • Avoid downed power lines and use electric tools and appliances safely to prevent electrical shock.

Additional carbon monoxide poisoning and poisoning prevention information is available at the following sites:

MDHHS CO Poisoning Resources:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a series of resources related to heat-related illness and CO poisonings: