The generator industry’s promised fix for deadly carbon monoxide poisoning was put to the test last year on a narrow patio outside Demetrice Johnson’s home after Hurricane Ida plunged much of Louisiana into darkness.
Johnson’s brand-new generator — equipped with a safety mechanism that manufacturers have said prevents “more than 99%” of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths — hummed into the night, inches from her family’s back door on Sept. 1, 2021, powering an air conditioner and a refrigerator.
If carbon monoxide levels got too high, the generator was designed to automatically sense the danger and trigger a shut-off switch.
But by the time emergency responders entered the three-bedroom brick house in Jefferson Parish the next morning, Johnson and her children, 17-year-old Craig Curley Jr. and 23-year-old Dasjonay Curley, were dead. They had been poisoned by exhaust fumes that flowed from the generator into their home, according to a sheriff’s office report, exposing a safety deficiency that federal officials and consumer advocates have warned about.
The safety switch’s failure to save Johnson and her children is detailed in an April report by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that was obtained this month by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and NBC News through an open records request. The federal report followed an investigation by the news organizations that detailed the family’s deaths and found that attempts to make portable generators safer have been stymied by an oversight process that empowers manufacturers to regulate themselves, resulting in limited safety upgrades.