Lawmaker pursues recall of houseboats
By Maureen West, with contributions by the Associated Press
The Arizona Republic
December 28, 2000

A congressman has called for a nationwide recall of a type of houseboat that has caused more than 100 carbon monoxide poisonings at Arizona's Lake Powell and lakes across the country.

Seven deaths at Lake Powell have been associated with houseboats with generators that vent to the rear of the craft under the swim deck. The latest to die were two Colorado boys, Logan and Dillon Dixey, ages 8 and 11, in August.

Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., called for the recall in a letter sent Tuesday to Adm. James M. Loy, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"How many more fatalities do we have to suffer before the government addresses this threat to the public health?" McInnis wrote.

The Coast Guard is taking the issue seriously, spokesman Randolph Doubt said.

Last Thursday, the Coast Guard sent a letter to 85 houseboat manufacturers giving them until Jan. 29 to submit a plan for correcting the design flaw. It also asks for a tally of how many boats are involved.

"The letter to the builders is pretty strong," Doubt said.

But until that information is collected, the Coast Guard said it doesn't have enough information to consider a recall.

McInnis was pleased with that "first step," but said it is not enough. "There's too much at stake for us to simply rely on voluntary action by boat manufacturers," McInnis said.

Dr. Robert Baron, an emergency room doctor at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and medical director for the Lake Powell recreation area, is credited with connecting the mysterious injuries to carbon monoxide poisoning.

He called McInnis' letter "spectacular," adding that "things are happening!"

Baron has been raising concerns about the mysterious deaths and injuries at the lake since 1994, but couldn't identify a pattern until the Colorado boys died.

The Dixey boys' deaths traumatized so many people that it led federal officials to look at all boating-related carbon monoxide injuries.

The congressman called for the recall after reading a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Park Service that found that the hull and swimming platform at the back of many houseboats trap high levels of carbon monoxide created by gasoline-powered electric generators.

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

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. Tests will be conducted at Lake Mead in late January.

Boat manufacturers were not available for comment.

But Wes Smith, a houseboat owner and consultant in Lexington, Ky., said a recall would be an overreaction.

"Boat owners and renters should be aware of the problem and not run the generators when they are swimming or using the rear deck," he said. "I think it's a user issue."

 

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