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Health and Generator Safety Advice for Residents During Clean Up

Boiling waterThe county is providing the safety advice below in hopes that residents will excercise caution and follow basic safety practices during the storm-recovery process in the days ahead.

With cold weather upon us, please pay particular attention to the Health Department's advice on how to stay warm and how to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.


Advice about the cold
Be sure to read about how to protect against hypothermia and frostbite; and especially, to be safe when using alternate heating sources. Cold weather is coming our way so those without power and shelter need to take precautions as low termperatures can be life-threatening.


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Never run gas-powered generators in your garage, basement or on a covered porch. Keep them outside and away from windows and doors to keep dangerous carbon monoxide from entering your home.

Residents without power due to Superstorm Sandy, may use their ovens or improperly vented generators, charcoal stoves or other gasoline-fueled equipment to heat their homes. Misuse of any of these possibilities could lead to Carbon monoxide poisoning.

Residents are reminded never run gas-powered generators in the garage, basement or on a covered porch. They should be kept outside and away from windows and doors to keep dangerous carbon monoxide from entering your home.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is highly poisonous and is produced by gas and charcoal-powered equipment. Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include fatigue, weakness, chest pains for those with heart disease, shortness of breath upon exertion, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen in just minutes and it can be deadly. Be your carbon monoxide alarms are working and generators are properly installed. Don’t risk the life of you and your family members.  If you think you may have carbon monoxide poisoning, seek immediate medical attention.

The Westchester County Health Department recommends the following measures to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
  • NEVER use a generator indoors, including in homes, garages, basements, crawl spaces, and other enclosed or partially enclosed areas, even with ventilation. Opening doors and windows or using fans will not prevent CO build-up in the home. Keep it protected from rain and snow in its own shed.
  • ALWAYS locate the unit outdoors on a dry surface, away and downwind from doors, windows, vents and air conditioning equipment that could allow CO to come indoors.Follow the instructions that come with your generator. Do not exceed the rated capacity of your generator. Fire may result.
  • Install battery-operated CO alarms or plug-in CO alarms with battery back-up in your home, and follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions.
  • Test your CO alarms frequently and replace dead batteries.
  • Remember that you cannot see or smell CO, and portable generators can produce high levels of CO very quickly.
  • If you start to feel sick, dizzy, or weak while using a generator, get to fresh air right away. Do not delay!
  • For a poison emergency, call the New York Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If the victim has collapsed or is not breathing, call 911 immediately.
  • Only use grills and camp stoves outdoors.
  • If you use a fireplace, wood stove, or portable kerosene heater to stay warm, be sure there is adequate ventilation to the outside. Without enough fresh air, carbon monoxide fumes can build up in your home.
  • Never use a natural gas or propane stove/oven to heat your home.
  • If you use a kerosene heater, use 1-K grade kerosene only. Never substitute with fuel oil, diesel, gasoline or yellow (regular) kerosene.
  • Open a window to provide ventilation when a portable kerosene heater is in use to reduce carbon monoxide fumes inside the home.
  • Never add fuel to a space heater when it is hot. The fuel can ignite, burning you and your home.
  • Keep the heater away from objects that can burn, such as furniture, rugs or curtains.
  • If you have a fire extinguisher, keep it nearby.
  • Never leave candles burning if you leave the room.
  • Keep children away from space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves to avoid accidental burns.


Water and Food Safety - update on clearing out refrigerator once power returns

If your home has been without power, discard any perishable food that has been above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours or more. In most cases, this means you should empty out, clean and sanitize your refrigerator and freezer to prevent bacteria from growing.

The Westchester County Department of Health is alerting residents with private wells whose properties were flooded to either boil their water before consumption or to use bottled water as a precautionary measure since sewage and other harmful contaminants can be washed into private wells by storm waters. Residents should have their water tested if it is evident that their well cap was submerged.

"Until well water is either disinfected or confirmed to be safe, residents and food service businesses with private wells should boil their water at a rolling boil for a minimum of one minute prior to drinking it or using to prepare food, wash dishes by hand or brush teeth," said Westchester County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, MD.

Amler said dishwashers can be used as usual and well water can be used without boiling to wash clothes.

Residents should contact a well professional for help in dealing with the impacts of flood water on their water quality and well system. Read the instructions on how to disinfect wells, storage tanks and house piping on the Health Alerts.

The Health Department also cautions those who handle the cleanup of flood waters and mud that both may contain sewage and/or other contaminants. Heavy work gloves, long sleeved shirts, pants and boots should be worn during cleanup to avoid direct contact with the skin.

After a power failure, frozen foods that are hard and still contain ice crystals are safe to cook or refreeze. Frozen foods that have thawed should be cooked and consumed immediately, or discarded. Foods that have warmed to room temperature for more than two hours should be discarded.

 

Generator, Stove and Chain Saw Safety

The Westchester County Department of Health is alerting residents and businesses with generators, camp cook stoves, and chain saws to only operate them out of doors. They produce carbon monoxide and can be a source of CO poisoning. During a power outage, generators can be dangerous if not used properly. Using a generator indoors can kill you in minutes!

  • Never use a generator inside your house or in partly enclosed areas such as garages, basements, porches, crawlspaces, or sheds, or in partly-enclosed spaces such as carports or breezeways – even if windows are open.
  • Generators should only be operated outside, away from open windows. Carbon monoxide in the generator's fumes can build up and cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which can lead to death.
  • Place generators outside, far away and downwind from any buildings. One study demonstrated that 15 feet was not far enough to prevent a build-up of CO inside the home.
  • Do not exceed the rated capacity of your generator. Overloading your generator can damage it and any appliances connected to it. Fire may result.
  • Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Fuel spilled on a hot generator can cause an explosion.
  • If your generator has a detachable fuel tank, remove it before refilling. If this is not possible, shut off the generator and let it cool before refilling.

 

Alternate Heating/Cooking Sources

  • If you plan to cook on a barbeque grill or camp stove, remember these also produce carbon monoxide and are for outdoor use only.
  • If you use a fireplace, wood stove, or portable kerosene heater to stay warm, be sure there is adequate ventilation to the outside. Without enough fresh air, carbon monoxide fumes can build up in your home.
  • Never use a natural gas or propane stove/oven to heat your home.
  • If you use a kerosene heater, use 1-K grade kerosene only. Never substitute with fuel oil, diesel, gasoline or yellow (regular) kerosene.
  • Open a window to provide ventilation when a portable kerosene heater is in use to reduce carbon monoxide fumes inside the home.

 

Tools and Equipment

  • Fuel-powered tools and equipment, such as lawn mowers, snow blowers, chain saws, and pressure-washers, emit CO. Never start or operate these devices in an enclosed space such as a garage.

 

Fire safety

  • When adding fuel to a space heater, or wood to a wood stove or fireplace, wear non-flammable gloves and clothing.
  • Never add fuel to a space heater when it is hot. The fuel can ignite, burning you and your home.
  • Keep the heater away from objects that can burn, such as furniture, rugs or curtains.
  • If you have a fire extinguisher, keep it nearby.
  • Be careful with candles—never leave them burning if you leave the room.
  • Keep children away from space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves to avoid accidental burns.

 

Restaurant Safety

  • Westchester County health department inspectors have visited and evaluated more than 1,400 Westchester county restaurants, delis and ice cream shops that are operating with auxiliary power from generators in areas of the county where power is out.
  • The inspectors’ mission during this emergency is to protect public health by helping business owners ensure that the food they serve is safe to consume and that their establishments are safe to work in.
  • Other than a few extraordinary incidents, the vast majority of the businesses inspected were found to be following the sanitary code and their owners, managers and employees followed county inspectors’ guidance to either open to the public or remain closed until power is restored.
  • Food service businesses that do not have power or hot water can only open to the public to provide prepackaged foods that do not need refrigeration and will be eaten elsewhere.
  • To recover losses, business owners should contact their insurance carriers and photograph their damaged goods/locations. Further directions will be announced and available at www.westchestergov.com.

 

For more information on post-storm safety, visit www.westchestergov.com/health.

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