April 02, 2020

Storms prompt study of carbon monoxide woes

NORWAY — The two ice storms that hammered Maine this month may have caused the nation’s largest documented outbreak of carbon monoxide poisoning, state health officials said.

The Bureau of Health has begun a study of the outbreak in hopes of using the results to provide safety guidelines for future emergencies.

“What we’d like to have is some known things that people can do, known actions that people can take,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the bureau.

Between 300 and 400 people statewide suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by poorly ventilated generators and heat sources, Mills said. She based her estimate on preliminary information gathered from phone calls to hospital emergency rooms around the state.

Before this month, the largest known outbreak of carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in 1991 following an ice storm in Rochester, N.Y., in which 55 people suffered with the condition, Mills said.

The study under way will make more extensive use of emergency room data from a few hospitals. It will also rely on data gathered by the Red Cross during interviews at shelters, and a door-to-door survey in Norway.

Researchers plan to compare emergency room data from a 10-day period at the height of the 1998 power failures with data from the same 10 days in 1997.

In addition to increases in the number of carbon monoxide poisonings, Mills said preliminary data reveals that emergency rooms dealt with larger-than-normal numbers of respiratory problems, cardiac problems and fractures.

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