What to do and not to do to keep indoor air healthy during big storms

    Winds and rain are still whipping, but officials already have some post-storm warnings, so people huddled and tucked safely away from the storm don’t encounter indoor health problems.


    Don’t use the oven or an outside grill to heat the house.

    Never set up a generator inside, not even in a garage or partially enclosed space, said Emily Knearl, spokeswoman with the Delaware Division of Public Health.

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    “If you feel weak, sick or dizzy using a generator, get to fresh air right away,” Knearl said. “Carbon monoxide [sometimes created by] generators can kill within minutes.”

    Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia emergency medicine physician Fred Henretig is the senior toxicologist for the Poison Control Center in Philadelphia.

    Center officials often notice a spike in calls when power outages become widespread and more people begin running portable generators.

    “People sometimes forget those are internal combustion engines, just like an automobile engine is. They are producing carbon monoxide as a by product,” Henretig said. “That’s why we want to get the word out now.”

    The number for poison control is the same across the United States, 800-222-1222.

    “Mild symptoms often begin with headache and nausea, feeling a little listy, sometimes a fainting spell,” Henretig said.

    “If someone has collapsed call 911,” Henretig said. “I think, if it’s a more subtle situation and someone is just feeling ill and they are not sure what’s going on, then calling the poison control center is certainly reasonable.

    In Delaware, the Storm Recovery Call Center–866-408-1899–opens at noon Tuesday. Health division staffers can answer a long list of basic questions.

    “How do you find out if your food is safe after a power outage or flood? How do you disinfect your water?” Knearl said. “How do you prevent mold? What’s the safest way to clean a flooded basement? Even how to re-open a restaurant or food establishment after flooding.”

    If water seeps inside, it may take as long as 48 hours to rid a home of excess moisture to prevent mold. Close windows and doors if you are using a dehumidifier, open them wide if you don’t have one.

    “It’s important to not only to dry out your property, but it’s important to disinfect it,” Knearl said. “They need to use bleach, mildew removers and disinfectant. You may need to remove parts of walls, and ceiling and floors to completely dry out the house.”

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