Survive the Storm, But Die When the Power Goes Out
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Survive the Storm, But Die When the Power Goes Out

Makers of Deadly Portable Home Generators Resist Efforts to Make Them Safer; Six Irma-Related Fatalities

This is the label the CPSC requires on portable generators.

With yet another major hurricane barreling its way across the Caribbean, at least six people have already died this storm season as homes have lost electric power and relied on carbon-monoxide-emitting portable generators for backup. The dangers of the home power plants are well known, but the companies that make the deadly machines have spent years fighting government efforts to make them safer.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 208 of 503 deaths from carbon monoxide from 2004 to 2012 could have been prevented if the amount of carbon monoxide that generators emit was limited.

But Greg Wischstadt, president of an industry trade group, told the commission in March that generator manufacturers want some type of automatic shut-off system instead of being required to lower the amount of carbon monoxide the generators emit.

“We urge the Commission to halt or delay (the proposed regulation) and continue to work with [the] industry,” said Wischstadt, president of the Portable Generator Manufacturers’ Association.

Action Box/What You Can Do About It

Call Ann Marie Buerkle, the acting chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, at 301-504-7978.

Write her at U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission / 4330 East-West Highway / Bethesda, Md. 20814.

Contact your senators who will vote on whether to approve Buerkle to chair the commission.

Also, here’s a CPSC safety alert on portable generators. It shows you how to minimize the hazards.

Florida officials have attributed six deaths from suspected carbon-monoxide poisonings linked to using gasoline-powered portable generators after hurricane Irma: Desiree Diaz Molina, 34, and her daughters, Kiara Lebron Diaz, 16, and Jan Lebron Diaz, 13, died Sept. 12 in Orlando. Terryn Wilson, 7, was found dead in her bed Sept. 13 in Lakeland. Dorothy Giddens, 34, died Sept. 13 in Daytona Beach. Each had a generator running in their home although warning labels say don’t. Elaine Kotake, 66, died Sept. 14 in Loxahatchee. A 15,000-watt generator strong enough to run central air conditioning was outside the home near the garage. The garage door had been left open a few inches, and the fumes were able to seep inside.

Albert Mattern and his family in Titusville suffered from carbon-monoxide poisoning but survived. Mattern said he set the generator up in the garage because generators in the neighborhood were being stolen.

Most of the five commissioners on the Consumer Products Safety Commission support tougher regulation of portable generators, but Ann Marie Buerkle, Trump’s choice to chair the commission, does not. She voted in November against publishing the proposed standards in the Federal Register.

A 5,000-watt portable generator gives off about 1,500 grams of carbon monoxide an hour, about as much as 450 idling mid-sized late-1990s cars. The generators can poison people so quickly they become confused and lose consciousness.

The manufacturers in the generators’ trade group are A-iPower Corp., American Honda Motor Co., Briggs & Stratton Corp., Champion Power Equipment, Generac Power Systems, Wacker Neuson Production Americas LLC, and Yamaha Motor Corp USA.

Featured Photo: This is the generator that killed 7-year-old Terryn Wilson after Hurricane Irma knocked out power in Lakeland, Fla. (video grab from Fox 13).


September 19, 2017