Home Use Generators: Dangerous and Behind the Curve

In late October 2011, Connecticut was hit by a rare early-season snowstorm that left more than 860,000 businesses and homes in that state without power. And some state residents who didn’t or couldn’t wait for the power to be restored, tried to survive the outage with the use of a portable generator. From the day of the storm until November 9, the Department of Public Health received 143 reports of carbon monoxide poisoning – nearly nine times the number of reports – 16 – for the previous three years combined. Five individuals died and 41 required a hospitalization; the majority of incidents were caused by portable generators for home use.

In writing about this surge in the Connecticut Epidemiologist, the researchers noted: “Outbreaks of CO poisonings following winter storms are well documented and continue to be a problem.”

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially deadly gas found as a byproduct of internal combustion engines that is odorless, colorless and tasteless. According to the latest figures from the CPSC, from 1999 to 2011, 695 – nearly 80 percent – of the 881 fatalities from 513 incidents were associated with generators. And CO poisonings from home generators will continue to be a problem, because the only countermeasure mandated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission are warnings. While other engine-manufacturing industries, such as automotive and marine generators, use available technology to significantly reduce their CO emissions, makers of portable generators for home have been relying on capital letters and pictograms to avert injury and death.

The data suggest that dramatically worded warning labels don't do enough to depress the injury and mortality rate. According to CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson, there was a noticeable decline in CO incidents involving generators after the recent Mid-Atlantic derecho and Hurricane Issac. Nonetheless, the CPSC has been exploring technical solutions to the CO hazard since 2006.

The Pedal Error Error

If the Toyota Unintended Acceleration has taught us anything, it’s the importance of examining NHTSA’s process before accepting its conclusions. The authority of the federal government automatically confers, in large measure, a public (including the mainstream media) acceptance of its pronouncements of scientific certitude. Few take the time to study their foundations. To this end, SRS has devoted more time and resources to obtaining the agency’s original source documents, data and communications around investigations, rulemakings and NHTSA-sponsored reports than we care to count. We have filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests in pursuit of these informational bases.

Another thing we have learned: NHTSA really doesn’t want the public to know how it does what it does. Our FOIA requests have morphed into FOIA lawsuits (three and counting), as the agency either denies us information that is public or claims to have none, even when the crumbs NHTSA’s FOIA staff toss to us show unequivocally that, in fact, they do have the information.

And that brings us to Pedal Application Errors, NHTSA’s last nail in the Electronically-Caused UA coffin. This report made a number of strong claims regarding who is likely to make a pedal application error and how it is likely to occur. They do not bode well for any woman of a certain age who has the misfortune to be behind the wheel of an electronically caused UA. The report’s writers based on a variety of data sources, including crashes from the Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (MVCCS), the North Carolina state crash database, a media review of pedal misapplication news stories and the insights garnered from a panel of rehabilitation specialists. Naturally, we wanted to look at all these data, and we requested them.

The response from the government, to put it kindly, was less than complete. NHTSA claimed that it didn’t have any of the underlying data, except the list of crashes from the MVCCS. It sent us the transcript of the one-and-a-half day meeting of rehabilitation specialists and Dr. Richard Schmidt, that prodigious peddler of the all-purpose, wholly unsupported and unscientific pedal misapplication theory the auto industry – and NHTSA – loves.

Categories

Archive Dates

Follow us on Twitter

Categories

Archive Dates

Follow us on Twitter