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Health Officials Urge Caution Following Carbon Monoxide Deaths

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
tablexxnx via flickr
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Carbon monoxide poisoning from generators has reportedly killed five Floridians in the wake of Irma. Here are some ways to prevent exposure to the potentially deadly gas.

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit tablexxnx via flickr /
The Florida Channel

Health officials call it a silent killer: carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. And the risk of poisoning is on the rise, as many Floridians turn on generators in the wake of Irma.

State officials are urging residents to never run generators or grills inside. Leon County Health Department spokeswoman Gail Stewart says that includes in garages, carports, porches or any area without ventilation.

“So you need to place it away from the house at least five feet or more. Not near a door or window or air intakes. Again, if your windows aren’t sealed the gas can come in,” Stewart said.

Stewart says symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include…

“A low, dull headaches, muscle weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, confusion, possible loss of consciousness. And it’s especially true when people are sleeping or if they’re intoxicated,” she said.

Stewart encourages neighbors to check in on each other.

"If you have neighbors that are elderly and they have a generator, please help them to be able to place their generators in a safe spot and go over periodically to check their fuel levels," Stewart said. "This really takes a community effort, for generator safety."

Stewart warns generators are by no means the only source of carbon monoxide.

"Anything that has an exhaust, we need to be protecting our breathing, because all of those petroleum-based engines, small engines, produce carbon monoxide," she said.

While the gas cannot be seen or smelled, the Department of Health is encouraging residents to install carbon monoxide alarms, check them regularly and replace any dead batteries. 

Since Hurricane Irma came ashore, residents have reached out to the Florida Poison Control Centersfor treatment advice for 140 patients potentially affected by carbon monoxide. Those numbers don't include calls directly to 911, or cases handled by hospitals that did not seek outside treatment advice.

If you or someone you know experiences symptoms of poisoning, call 911 and seek fresh air immediately.

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As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.