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(BPT) - Hurricane season begins in June, but millions across the country have already experienced severe weather this year, including thunderstorms and tornadoes. These storms will continue in various areas of the U.S. throughout the summer and into the fall. Safeguarding your family from an approaching hurricane or other severe weather should be your top priority, but other threats can also cause serious harm after a storm passes. These can include fires, electric shock and what is known as the “invisible killer”: carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

When severe weather causes power outages, many families use gasoline-powered portable generators to keep the lights on and appliances and devices running. However, improper use of portable generators causes increased risk of CO poisoning — which can kill your family in minutes. Because CO is invisible and has no odor, CO poisoning can happen quickly. Someone may suddenly become unconscious before they recognize the symptoms of nausea, dizziness or weakness.

According to recent data shared from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), African American families are at a higher risk of death from CO poisoning. CPSC estimates approximately 80 consumers die each year from CO poisoning caused by portable generators. African Americans accounted for 22% of generator-related CO deaths from 2010-2020, nearly double their estimated 13% share of the U.S. population.

Because the hazards of a hurricane, tornado or other severe weather are not over when the storm passes, take care to keep your family safe even in the aftermath of severe weather.

“It takes only one hurricane or severe storm to cause massive destruction and loss of life,” said CPSC Chair Alex Hoehn-Saric. “That is why I urge consumers to follow CPSC’s safety tips to be prepared ahead of storms — and to stay safer after storms have passed.”

To start, if you use a portable generator, follow these safety tips:

Use portable generators outside only.

Never operate a portable generator inside a home, garage (even with the door open), basement, crawlspace, shed or on a porch. Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent buildup of lethal levels of CO.

Keep generators at least 20 feet away from your house.

To stay safe, be sure to direct the generator’s exhaust away from the home — and from any buildings someone could enter.

Maintain your generator.

Just as you would check your lawn mower, car or major appliance, make sure your portable generator receives regular maintenance. Read and follow all labels, instructions and warnings on the generator and in the owner’s manual.

Choose a generator with auto CO shut-off.

When purchasing a new generator, ask the retailer for a portable generator that shuts off automatically when high levels of CO are present. Some models with CO shut-off also have reduced emissions. These models may or may not be advertised as certified to the latest safety standards for portable generators: PGMA G300-2018 and UL 2201.

Use and regularly test alarms in your home.

Place battery-operated CO alarms or CO alarms with battery backup on each level and outside separate sleeping areas. Smoke alarms should be installed on each level and inside bedrooms. Test CO and smoke alarms monthly to make sure they're working properly and replace batteries, if needed.

Follow these additional safety tips during storm season:

Wet appliances
  • After a storm, look for signs your appliances have gotten wet. Do not touch wet appliances still plugged into an electrical source.
  • Before using appliances, have a professional or your utility company evaluate them for safety. Replace all gas control valves, electrical wiring, circuit breakers and fuses that have been under water.

Gas leaks

  • If you smell or hear gas leaking, leave immediately and contact your gas authorities from outside your home.
  • Do not operate any electronics, such as lights or your phone, before leaving the house.

Using charcoal and candles

  • Never use charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal in enclosed spaces can produce lethal levels of CO. Do not use a charcoal grill in a garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Use caution burning candles during an outage — flashlights are safer. If using candles, do not use them on or near anything that could catch fire. Never leave burning candles unattended. Extinguish candles when leaving the room and before sleeping.

Stay informed and be prepared so you can keep your family safer all summer.

Learn more at CPSC.gov/safety-education/safety-guides/carbon-monoxide/carbon-monoxide-safety.