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A New York Tragedy

2011 November 8

By Elias Rodriguez

A tragic accident in recent days is a harsh reminder of the dangers of running even a small engine indoors. A New York City landscape worker was accidently killed by carbon monoxide gas after he and a colleague turned on a lawnmower in the back of their truck to keep warm after the unusual October snowstorm that hit the Northeast.

It is heartbreaking that each year hundreds of people become ill or die because of carbon monoxide poisoning. EPA has addressed this danger for years. In our fact sheet, the Agency states, “Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. If appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.” 

EPA warns folks never to use small engines or generators indoors or in enclosed areas. Fatal levels of the odorless gas can build up in these areas in minutes and can remain in the air for hours. Some steps you can take to reduce the risks from CO are to consider purchasing a vented space heater when replacing an unvented one; install and use an exhaust fan (I’ve got one) vented to outdoors over gas stoves; open flues when fireplaces are in use and do not run the car or other engines inside the garage or anywhere indoors. This advice is especially timely in the cold weather months. I know there has been a run on small generators at my local hardware store. Hopefully buyers will heed the precautions. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of the young man killed. RIP.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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