July 2006

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Carbon Monoxide Suspected in Near-Death Drownings

PHOENIX - Authorities are investigating carbon monoxide poisoning as the cause of the near drowning of two people at Lake Pleasant in Maricopa County this past Sunday. This has prompted the Arizona Game and Fish Department to deliver a warning about this dangerous boating hazard. Since 1998, four people in Arizona have died from carbon monoxide-related watercraft incidents.

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is formed by incomplete combustion of any fuel, including gasoline, kerosene, wood, coal, oil, natural gas or charcoal. Sources on a boat include gasoline engines, generators, cooking ranges and space heaters.

"Carbon monoxide is a silent killer because it is an odorless, colorless gas," said Game and Fish Boating Safety Education Program Manager Ed Huntsman. "All boat engines produce carbon monoxide and boaters across the country are killed every year because of improper cabin ventilation, poorly maintained equipment and careless behavior."

Dangerous or deadly fumes can accumulate in confined spaces on boats, near stern ladders and under swimming platforms. Swimmers and water-skiers behind running boat engines face the greatest risk of exposure to exhaust fumes, which can build up to deadly levels. Boats emit up to 188 times the carbon monoxide that cars do.

Boaters should be aware of the threats posed by carbon monoxide and take the following steps to avoid them:

  • install a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector;
  • never operate watercraft at any speed or run idle under anchor while a person is occupying or holding onto the swim platform, swim deck, swim step or swim ladder;
  • schedule regular engine and exhaust system maintenance;
  • educate all passengers about carbon monoxide poisoning.

"You do not have to be inside the boat to be at risk," Game and Fish Boating Law Administrator Kevin Bergersen said. "Boaters have died from exposure on the swim platforms of their boats and in other areas where carbon monoxide exhaust may accumulate or be emitted. Be aware of the early symptoms like irritated eyes, headache, nausea, weakness and dizziness."

Several carbon monoxide deaths in the United States over the past several years have involved outdoor activities other than boating. Hunters and campers can be at risk of carbon monoxide exposure if they use portable heaters in enclosed spaces like campers and tents.

To learn more about how you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning on recreational boats and other ways to stay safe, visit azgfd.gov.

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