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Carbon Monoxide Deaths: Generators Cause At Least Nine Fatal Poisonings After Hurricane Sandy

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Neighbors Michael Rivera and Pete Rosetta set up a generator on November 1, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Generators have caused at least nine carbon monoxide deaths in the state since Hurricane Sandy hit. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Neighbors Michael Rivera and Pete Rosetta set up a generator on November 1, 2012 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Generators have caused at least nine carbon monoxide deaths in the state since Hurricane Sandy hit. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

As many struggle to get by without power on the East Coast following Hurricane Sandy, some are turning to portable generators to provide basic electricity to their homes. While these devices have provided some much-needed power for the hardest hit areas, they have also been a factor in at least nine recent deaths.

In Trenton, N.J., 59-year-old Gracie Dunston passed away early Thursday and seven other members of her family were treated at local hospitals after they were overcome by carbon monoxide fumes from a generator that was running on the first floor of the home. According to officials, the fumes inside the home were three times the danger level.

The toxic gas becomes fatal with sustained concentrations above 150 parts per million, however symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, including headache, nausea and dizziness, may present themselves at 70 ppm.

In the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, people affected are warned to be cautious while using gas-powered equipment that produce carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas that can be deadly if inhaled.

In Newark, N.J., two 19-year-olds, Mudiwa Benson and Kenya Barber, died from carbon monoxide poisoning because the generator was too close to the home, while police believe 55-year-old Rafael Reyes of New Brunswick, who was running a generator in his basement, and a 65-year-old Edison man with a generator in his garage also died as a result of the close proximity of the devices.

In Pennsylvania, four people died in separate incidents as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning from generator fumes.

"The risk for carbon monoxide poisoning due to indoor use of propane stoves or generators is a major concern of public health officials after the storm," Dr. Robert Glatter, a physician at New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital, told CBSNews.com. "The only safe use of such generators or stoves is outdoors, well away from any windows that could transmit fumes indoors."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises using generators at least 20 feet away from homes, since there's not enough ventilation within garages and basements or near open windows to prevent fatal poisoning. Battery-powered alarms are also necessary to warn residents before carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels.

To learn more about how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and properly use generators, check out the CDC's website.

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