by Jill Cortright

Staff Writer, Gazatte.net

A woman died and a man fell ill from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning believed to be caused by a gas-powered generator running indoors in a Chillum home Monday, fire officials said.

At 11:30 a.m., the brother of a Chillum homeowner asked the Prince George’s County Fire Department to check on the homeowner because he was concerned something had happened to him, said fire department spokesman Mark Brady. Fire fighters and county police officers reported to the 800 block of Cox Avenue to check on the resident’s welfare.

“They entered the house and found the individual semiconscious in a deteriorated state of health that appeared to be due to carbon monoxide exposure,” Brady said. He said they searched the house and in the basement found a gasoline-powered generator that was not operated at the time because it had run out of gas.

Officers then found a woman in the upstairs bedroom who was deceased.

The male was then transported to Washington Adventist Hospital for evaluation and treatment, said a hospital spokesman. Brady said that both cases “from all outside appearances had all indications of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

The widespread power outages in the county from the tropical storm have led to an increased use of generators,” Brady said. Many people make the mistake of using them indoors, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in the number of carbon monoxide poisonings and exposures in the past two days,” Brady said. He said 20 carbon monoxide incidents have occurred throughout the county since the storm. Most don’t require hospitalization and can be treated through oxygen and fresh air, he said.

The Chillum case was the first suspected carbon-monoxide-related death in the county connected to the storm, he said.

Brady issued a warning to county residents using generators.

“Outdoors is the only place to operate a fuel-powered generator. It can’t be in the house or the garage, even with the door open,” he said, since carbon monoxide can still leak into the home.

The effects of the odorless, invisible gas – which he nicknamed “the silent killer” – depend on levels and duration of exposure.

“Low levels over a series of days could be deadly. But a gas generator produces high levels of carbon monoxide, and it could only take a matter of hours before a fatal injury occurs,” Brady said.

He said fire fighters are canvassing areas with widespread power outages to spread the word about the dangers of using generators indoors.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include nausea, dizziness and disorientation, leading to a decline in condition.