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Am J Prev Med. 2005 Jan;28(1):123-5.

Carbon monoxide poisoning from portable electric generators.

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  • 1Center for Hyperbaric Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington, USA.



While the overall death rate from unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning has decreased in the United States due to improved automobile emissions controls and a decline in CO poisonings from motor vehicles, exposures have not changed from some sources of CO. One of these is the operation of portable electrical generators in poorly ventilated spaces. This study sought to describe the population poisoned from CO produced by portable electric generators, and to determine the reasons that generators are operated in a hazardous fashion.


Cases of CO poisoning referred for treatment with hyperbaric oxygen at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle from November 1978 to March 2004 were reviewed. Those cases that resulted from portable generator use were selected for analysis.


Sixty-three patients aged 2 to 85 years were treated for CO poisoning from portable electric generators. They included 34 males and 29 females who were poisoned in 37 separate incidents. Thirty-four lost consciousness with the exposure. Of the 63 total patients, 60 spoke English. Generators were typically used when normal electrical service was disrupted by a storm or in remote locations. In 29 of 37 incidents, the generator was operated in the home environment, most commonly in the garage. Lack of awareness of the dangers of CO poisoning or lack of knowledge of ventilation requirements were the most commonly identified reasons.


CO poisoning from portable electric generators occurs in a characteristic population, in a few typical locations and for a limited number of reasons. This information may help target prevention efforts for this form of poisoning, such as warning labels or educational programs.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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