Two tragedies this week where families may have misused generators or heaters that emitted deadly levels of carbon monoxide is creating more awareness of this dangerous poison.

Smoke and carbon monoxide detector (Credit: Mike Rachel)

Authorities think carbon monoxide may be responsible for the deaths of a young mother and her daughter who were found in an East Orange home. The bodies of 29-year-old Octavia Campbell and 7-year-old Christiana Campbell were found Wednesday morning. A utility company had shut off power at the home on Tuesday, and a gas generator was being used at the home without proper ventilation.

In Maryland, 36-year-old Rodney Todd and his seven children died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a portable generator after their home’s power had been disconnected. Their bodies were discovered on Monday.

A generator or heater that is improperly vented produces the carbon monoxide that goes to work quietly on our bodies and our brains, according to Dr. Steven Marcus, medical and executive director of the New Jersey Poison Information & Education System.

"It prevents oxygen from getting access to the blood cells and therefore starves the entire body of access to oxygen," Marcus said.

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is given off with incomplete combustion of whatever is burning. It doesn't matter whether it is wood, gas oil or gasoline.

Marcus said carbon monoxide impacts the body by binding in the blood cells the same way as oxygen does, but by doing that, it prevents oxygen from getting access to the blood cells and therefore starves the entire body of access to oxygen. He said not only  does carbon monoxide interfere and compete with oxygen, it also changes the way the blood releases oxygen to the tissues and actually decreases that as well.

One way to prevent carbon monoxide from happening is to make sure improperly vented generators and heaters are not used inside or near dwellings. Marcus said if these things are too close to a house, and the wind is blowing back into the house, that carbon monoxide can enter the living space.

In addition, all homes should have working carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.

"They are required in the State of New Jersey. They started with the requirement in multi-occupant dwellings, and are moving down to every apartment, every dwelling."

So what should you do if you own a carbon monoxide detector and it goes off?

Marcus said the safest thing is to get everybody out of the environment and call for help. "It may just be a false alarm. It may be that the batteries are dying, you can't tell the difference between the chirp telling you to change the batteries or that there is really exposure. But don't stay in the house. Get out and call for help."

For more tips on how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.