Studying a silent killer; Feds testing houseboats, carbon monoxide
By Maureen West
The Arizona Republic
January 24, 2001

Federal researchers are at Lake Mead this week testing carbon monoxide levels of houseboats.

Officials for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have conducted similar tests at two other popular houseboat destinations, Lake Cumberland in Kentucky and Lake Powell in Arizona, where they have found dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide.

The tests come in the wake of a federal government study released in November that found seven deaths and 74 injuries related to houseboat carbon monoxide exhaust on Lake Powell during the 1990s.

At the request of the Interior Department, NIOSH is also evaluating death and injury records. As at Lake Powell, the U.S. Park Service handles all the emergency medical services at Lake Mead.

Two houseboat manufacturers whose boats are rented at Lake Mead, Fun Country Marine Industries and Pacific Boat, asked the researchers to test their houseboats.

"NIOSH seemed surprised that we called, but our customers want some answers, and we want to know, too," said Darla Cook, director of sales and marketing for Forever Resorts based in Scottsdale and owner of Fun Country Marine Industries.

They have made 309 houseboats of different designs since the early 1990s, and the company wants to know whether some designs are safer than others.

On Tuesday, in Callville Bay Marina, Nev., about 35 miles southeast of Las Vegas in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NIOSH researchers surveyed and took photos of about a dozen designs of houseboats docked at the marina. They did extensive tests of four styles of boats made by Fun Country.

Later this week they will move to Echo Bay to look at Pacific Boats rented by Seven Crown Resorts.

The investigators measure carbon monoxide levels several ways. With boat generators turned off, they place hand-size sensors at a dozen locations at the back of the houseboat near where boating enthusiasts normally swim or congregate. They take readings close to where emissions are vented, take samples of the air and measure wind velocity. They also conduct tests in and out of the marina area to see if location makes a difference.

"If one design or situation is better than another, we want that information to be known," said Ronald Hall, an industrial hygienist with NIOSH who is part of the team conducting the tests.

NIOSH engineer Scott Earnest was studying boat designs to see whether there are better design ideas they can propose to manufacturers.

The result of the Lake Mead tests are expected to be ready in March or April.

"If there is any retrofit that needs to be made for safety, we would do that for our boats," Cook said.


    Copyright 2001, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.