U.S. calls for houseboat fixes
By Judd Slivka
The Arizona Republic
December 15, 2000

Pressure is building to fix new and old houseboats whose exhaust has led to more than 100 carbon monoxide poisonings at northern Arizona's Lake Powell and other large lakes across the nation.

A federal health publication today calls for the redesign of houseboat exhausts and an increased awareness by the public and medical community of the dangers of boat-exhaust carbon monoxide poisoning.

And the Coast Guard said it will request help from the nation's 85 registered houseboat manufacturers on ways to fix the problem.

State and federal officials met Thursday at Lake Powell to consider how to combat the poisonings.

The Coast Guard will send letters to houseboat manufacturers this month asking if they have sold houseboats with decks that extend to the rear and side of the hull, creating a cavity where deadly carbon monoxide gas can be trapped.

The Arizona Republic reported earlier this month that 111 carbon monoxide poisonings, including nine deaths and 102 serious injuries, occurred on Lake Powell over the past decade.

Most of the deaths took place on or near houseboats with generators that vented to the rear of the boat rather than to the side.

Late last week, results of tests at Lake Cumberland, Ky., confirmed researchers' findings from Lake Powell regarding the high level of carbon monoxide houseboats can produce.

The Coast Guard letter "will tell the manufacturers that we're aware of the problem, and now they're aware of the problem," said Randolph Jay Doubt, a Coast Guard engineer. Doubt was one of several state and federal officials who met Thursday at the headquarters of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes Lake Powell.

"It will say we're looking for engineering solutions," Doubt said.

Manufacturers will have until Jan. 15 to respond to the Coast Guard's inquiry, after which fines can be levied. But even if every company responds on time, there still is a major hurdle.

"We've got a problem no matter what the response is," Doubt said. "It should be fairly evident to builders we're gearing up for some kind of recall, but there's a statute of limitations of five years. What will we do for houseboats more than 5 years old?"

Meanwhile, a report published today by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta called for the redesign of both old and new boats to "reduce the hazard" from the exhaust of boat engines and electrical generators.

"The very high CO (carbon monoxide) concentrations measured outdoors -- up to 30,000 parts per million -- around and under the stern deck, point to a need for increased public and medical community awareness of the risk for CO poisoning," according to today's edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That amount is several times the minimum concentration of carbon monoxide needed to kill or cause severe injury.

Bill West, a Page houseboat dealer and spokesman for the privately owned houseboats on Lake Powell, said the local industry is working to retrofit older boats by redirecting exhaust from electrical generators through holes drilled in the side of the hull.

The operation can be done in about an hour, he said, and costs $250 to $500. But it's not a total solution, he said.

"There is no fix to carbon monoxide. We can put it somewhere else where it's a little bit safer, but it will always be there," West said.

As the Coast Guard sends out its letter and local boat dealers work to retrofit their vessels, the National Park Service is preparing an aggressive boater education campaign to keep people off the afterdecks of houseboats while the generator is running.

The new edition of the official Glen Canyon National Recreation Area map and guide to Lake Powell, distributed to all visitors, will include a section on the dangers of carbon monoxide.

The Park Service is posting large yellow signs in various marinas around the lake that read, "Carbon monoxide kills."

Park Service staff members will be attending the Arizona and Utah boat shows this winter to push carbon monoxide awareness.

Utah State Parks staff is designing a pamphlet on carbon monoxide dangers to be passed out to boaters on the lake.


    Copyright 2000, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.