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Air Quality Degrades as Snowstorm Outages Continue

The state is warning that some residents might be at risk with the unhealthy air quality levels.

Because of the increased burning of firewood and use of generators, Connecticut’s air quality today is expected to reach unhealthy levels for people with certain respiratory sensitivities, state environmental officials said.

A combination of elevated levels of particle pollution, the snow pack, light winds and more importantly, increased use of wood burning and emergency generators resulting from a record number of power outages caused by the snowstorm are helping to deteriorate air quality in the state.

Locally emitted particle air pollution will linger near the surface and produce so-called Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups levels – the elderly, young children and those with respiratory ailments – in Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties.  Weather conditions are expected to help improve our air quality by tomorrow, as increasing northwesterly winds should dissipate the lingering particle pollution, officials with the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said in a press release issued today.

“You can literally see that air pollution has cast a brown haze in the air, especially in valley areas,” said DEEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty.  “This condition should improve as weather conditions change and because fewer people will burn wood and run generators as power is restored to more homes.”

“For those who must continue to burn wood and run generators,” Esty said, “please keep some good common sense rules in mind.  Burn only seasoned wood and make sure to run your stove or furnace as efficiently as possible.  And, if you are operating a generator, please run it only when absolutely necessary.”

Esty also reminded those operating generators, to make sure they are well ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Since Connecticut is experiencing a record number of power outages emergency generators have been the main source of back-up power to many homes, hospitals, businesses and municipal buildings,” Esty said.  “As a result, there has also been an increased number of reported incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning, several of which have been fatal.”

 Health Effects

For elevated levels of particle pollution, members of Sensitive Groups, including the elderly, the young, and people with asthma may experience health effects, such as aggravation of heart and lung disease.

“Elevated levels of particle pollution have been associated with increased rates of overall mortality,” stated DPH Commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen. “Sensitive individuals should take precautions during high pollution days, such as staying indoors and avoiding vigorous activity or exercise.”

Dr. Mullen added that people in sensitive groups should continue using their regular medication and contact their health care provider if they experience symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath.

 Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning weakens the heart's contractions, lowers the amount of oxygen carried by the blood, reduces one's ability to exercise and is dangerous for people with chronic heart disease.  Symptoms of CO poisoning include nausea, dizziness, headaches, visual impairment and under high concentrations, and can result in death.

 Background

Particle pollution is produced by a wide variety of natural and man-made sources, including factories, power plants, trash incinerators, motor vehicles, diesel engines, construction activity, fires, and natural windblown dust.  In the winter, wood smoke emissions from residential wood smoke is a major contributor to the formation of particle pollution.

 Carbon Monoxide (CO)is an odorless, colorless gas resulting from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels from mobile sources, boilers, some industrial processes and emergency generators.  While high concentrations of CO can be found in confined spaces, such as parking garages, poorly ventilated areas or clogged traffic intersections, the primary concern is the improper and dangerous operation of emergency generators or other combustion sources inside buildings.

What can be done to help

Those still without power should use emergency generators strictly in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.  Those burning wood to heat a home, should burn dry seasoned wood only.  Doing so reduces particle pollution and helps to prevent a chimney from backing up.   If you do have power, minimize the non-essential use of wood burning such as wood stoves and fireplaces. 

Since emergency generators and supplemental heaters are being used this week to power and heat many homes, here are some common sense tips to avoid CO poisoning during power outages:

Place generators outdoors in a well ventilated location, at least 15 feet away from your home windows, doors, and air intake vents. Do not keep your generator in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space (such as basement, cellar bulkhead or an attached garage) where carbon monoxide can build up to dangerous levels. Opening windows and doors, and operating fans is not sufficient to prevent buildup of CO in a home.

Use kerosene heaters only in a well ventilated room, by either keeping doors to other rooms open or keeping a window partially open (at least 1 inch) • Use only K-1 grade fuel in kerosene heaters • Follow instructions for setting the wick height.

Do not use outdoor cooking devices indoors (such as gas or charcoal grills, gas camp stoves).

Do not use indoor gas cooking stoves for heat.

Keep your chimney flue and a window open when burning decorative gas fireplace logs as a heat source.

Install a CO detector on each floor of your residence near sleeping areas. A UL certified plug-in detector with a battery-backup and digital readout is recommended. Test alarms monthly. Change the battery at least twice a year. Replace alarms every 5 years because the sensors degrade over time.

For more information on air quality in Connecticut, visit the DEEP air quality index webpage. For information regarding wood burning in Connecticut, go to the DEEP’s page on the issue. For more information on carbon monoxide, go here.

 

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