June 13, 2002
CPSC Alerts Outdoor Enthusiasts: New
Portable Heaters Can Save Campers' Lives - ODS technology will help prevent
CO poisoning deaths
This summer, as friends, families, and outdoor enthusiasts head out to
campsites, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is announcing
that there is a new generation of portable heaters with a safety device that
can prevent the tragic loss of life due to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
The new heaters are equipped with an oxygen depletion sensor (ODS) and are
safer to use when camping. If oxygen levels start to fall, this sensing
technology automatically shuts down the heater before it can produce serious
levels of CO.
Unlike earlier portable heaters that do not have an ODS and are intended for
outdoor use only, the new ODS-equipped heaters are specifically designed for
indoor use. They can be safely used inside tents, cabins, and campers, but
it is essential that users comply with the manufacturers' instructions to
ensure that there is adequate ventilation. CPSC still recommends shutting
off any camping heater or lantern before going to sleep.
CPSC estimates that in 1998, the latest year for which data are available,
18 people died due to carbon monoxide poisoning associated with using
camping heaters indoors. Many of these deaths could have been prevented if
the victims had been using the new heaters. These deaths occurred when
consumers brought radiant camping heaters that used 1 lb. propane tanks (but
did not have an ODS) inside tents, campers, and other vehicles, thus
exposing themselves to high levels of CO.
"CPSC wants all consumers to know that there is a new generation of portable
heaters that are safer to use when camping," said Jacqueline Elder, Acting
Director of CPSC's Office of Hazard Identification and Reduction. "Carbon
monoxide poisoning is a silent killer that has taken the lives of many
first-time and even experienced campers. The new, safer heaters prevent CO
deaths by automatically shutting off the heater if oxygen levels start to
CPSC worked closely with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
Camping Equipment Subcommittee and the industry to develop and implement a
new standard for 1 lb. portable heaters. The ODS technology on these heaters
senses when the oxygen level in a tent or camper drops below 18 percent. If
this occurs, the ODS closes the gas valve and shuts off the heater,
preventing the production of dangerous levels of CO.
Consumers can find the safer heaters under various brands in major retail
stores nationwide. Consumers need to ensure that they purchase portable
heaters that meet the current standard. The new heaters can be identified by
labels on the package that read in part, "Designed for Indoor Use," "Low
Oxygen Automatic Shut-Off System," and "Oxygen Depletion Sensor" or by a
star with the words "CSA 4.98."
CO is a silent killer, so CPSC has developed the following guidelines to
prevent this colorless, odorless gas from poisoning you, your family or
New ODS-equipped heaters are intended for indoor use.
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for ventilation.
Older generation heaters without an ODS are intended for outdoor use only
and must never be used indoors.
Do not use portable heaters that fail to meet the new standard in enclosed
areas such as tents, campers, and other vehicles. This is especially
important at high altitudes, where the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning is
Do not keep camping heaters and lanterns on while sleeping.
Do not attempt to use alternative sources of heat or power to warm a tent or
camper. Charcoal grills, camping lanterns, and gas generators also can cause
carbon monoxide poisoning. To heat an interior area while camping, only use
a camping heater that meets the new safety standard.
Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: headache, dizziness,
weakness, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness, and confusion. Consumers who
experience any of these symptoms should extinguish any possible source of CO
and move to an area with fresh air.
Carbon monoxide reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen. Low blood
oxygen levels can result in loss of consciousness and death. See a doctor if
you or a member of your family develops cold or flu-like symptoms while
camping. Carbon monoxide poisoning, which can easily be mistaken for a cold
or flu, is often detected too late.
Be aware that alcohol consumption and drug use increase the effects of
carbon monoxide poisoning.
Be aware that carbon monoxide is especially toxic to people with heart
disease or blood or circulatory system problems, such as anemia. Fetuses,
infants and the elderly are also more susceptible to CO poisoning.
The surfaces of the heaters are extremely hot - always locate the heater
away from traffic and combustible materials.