Earlier this year we reported on a “poker game” going on between portable generator manufacturers and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The Commission had upped the ante in the game that the two groups were playing. Back in February, with “safety of the citizenry” in mind, the CPSC put generator manufacturers on notice. CPSC said it was considering implementing mandatory rules to protect users from the hazards of carbon monoxide. For years, industry has been working under voluntary standards to reduce risks. Now Congress wants to get into the game.
How does the system work?
Here’s how the “voluntary system” works. Generator manufacturers set out to reduce the likelihood of deaths and injuries from CO poisoning. The voluntary plan would eliminate any chance of the CPSC making rules. Manufacturers went ahead and developed a voluntary industry standard. At the heart of the standard were changes to portable generators. These changes, by industry’s testing, reduce the number of deaths from CO associated with generators by 99%.
How does this work? Imagine building a CO detector into a portable generator. The detector constantly sniffs the surrounding air. If a danger level is reached, it shuts down the generator. A warning light then indicates what the problem is.
Some generator manufacturers comply—others not
Some manufacturers already have models with this safety equipment on store shelves. But not everyone is playing along. According to a story published by ProPublica, four generator companies haven’t joined the party and upgraded their units. Who? Champion Power Equipment, DuroMax Power Equipment, Firman Power Equipment, and Generac Power Systems. Instead of the CPSC poking at these firms, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform saw the carbon monoxide smoke signals and got involved.
The committee’s lead representative, Carolyn B. Maloney (D. NY), earlier this week fired off letters to all four of the firms. She asked for records and information as to why these generator manufacturers haven’t kicked out equipment upgrades enhancing CO safety. She also asked for copies of letters or other messages regarding any deaths or injuries connected to their generator products.
“As families prepare for potential extreme weather during the 2022 hurricane season, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether the products they buy to keep themselves safe are dangerous and potentially life-threatening,” Maloney said in a statement. “Unfortunately, with tragedy after tragedy, we’ve seen that portable generators have become one of the deadliest consumer products on the market.”
Roughly 70 people are killed each year by CO from portable generators. To many, this doesn’t seem like a significantly large number—unless one of those deaths is among your friends or family. While official statistics are easy to track down on deaths, injuries from CO poisoning are significantly larger in number.
As we mentioned last spring, those injured by CO poisoning may suffer long-term memory, language, and cognition problems. Behavior and mood problems aren’t uncommon. Some even suffer from symptoms that might be seen in Parkinson’s disease patients. Making it all the more disturbing, symptoms may not appear for days—even weeks—after the initial poisoning occurs. While CO may not kill “too many” people, it could make life a walking nightmare for hundreds, if not thousands.
With all that in mind and more, Representative Maloney “called” the recalcitrant manufacturers. In her letter to the CEOs of the four companies, she wrote. “The Committee is seeking to understand why your company has failed to adequately adopt industry-led standards, how your company plans to prevent putting your customers at risk in the future, and whether legislative reform is necessary to protect consumers.” Giving the four power-houses until July 12 to respond, she also asked for information on how much money their firms were saving by failing to tune up to the voluntary standards. She reminded them that if they fail to turn over the requested information, she could issue subpoenas.
Will this increasing pressure on industry get the “desired response”? Or will the CPSC end up mandating generator rules? Back in March, the generator manufacturers’ trade group didn’t think so. “We think, in the end, there will not be a mandatory standard because there is a voluntary standard, ANSI/PGMA G300,” wrote the group’s representative. That standard “effectively addresses the issue and there will be substantial compliance by the industry.” If industry “substantially complies” with their own voluntary standard, then CPSC has no footing to write new rules on generator safety.
Apparently some in Congress don’t think that generator manufacturers have “substantially complied” with the voluntary standards. Two of the four alleged “non-complying” firms responded to ProPublica for a comment about the Congressional committee demand.
Champion’s CEO, Denis Trine, gave ProPublica a response that indicated its safety and product quality were priorities. Trine also said portable generators “never” kill users when they are “used correctly as depicted on the product, packaging and owners manual.” He also heralded the other ways the company’s generators could actually prove health-helpful. “Temporary, emergency power saves lives for people storing hundreds of dollars of Insulin in their refrigerators and people using breathing machines to sleep at night. The list goes on regarding the critical benefits of portable generators.”
For its part, Generac responded that the company was reviewing the letter and would make a response to the committee. As for Firman and DuroMax, the “lights were out,” in terms of a response to reporters at ProPublica.
We’ll update you on this story as information becomes available.
Honda debuts new Super Quiet EU Series portable generator
Honda Power Sports & Products is launching the all-new Honda EU3200i, the newest generator in the Honda Super Quiet EU Series lineup. The generator delivers more power and more convenience than the Honda EU3000i Handi generator, and in a compact, portable package. Read the press release.