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Experts warn boaters about carbon monoxide - odorless, colorless killer

Although rare, death can occur when equipment that emits the gas is operated in an enclosed space, authorities said.

Carbon monoxide gas — suspected in the deaths of a Moriches couple — is an odorless and colorless killer able to strike in virtually any environment, said local experts, adding that although injury or death is rare, the compound's dangers are not commonly known.

“It can happen any time you have an incomplete combustion of fossil fuels,” said Suffolk Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. “Never run something that generates carbon monoxide in an enclosed space.”

Cameron’s advice came as detectives continued to investigate the apparent carbon monoxide-poisoning deaths of Peter R. D’Ancona, 54, and his girlfriend, Tina Sgambati, 51, both of Moriches. Their bodies were found Sunday aboard a 35-foot Mainship boat docked near Bayview Walk on Fire Island, police said.

Experts said the gas is dangerous because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives vital organs of oxygen.

Cameron cited federal data showing there are 500 carbon monoxide poisoning deaths annually — on land and sea. He said Suffolk had 11 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning between 2009 and 2014. 

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that carbon monoxide, commonly referred to as "CO," caused four deaths on the waters nationwide in 2017.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website: “Larger boats, such as houseboats, sometimes have generators that vent toward the rear of the boat.” It also states that "venting poses a danger of CO poisoning to people on the rear swim deck or water platform . . . Traveling at slow speeds or idling in the water can cause CO to build up in a boat’s cabin, cockpit, bridge, and aft deck, or in an open area.”

Thomas Doheny, commissioner of conservation and waterways for the Town of Hempstead, said many boating safety courses neglect to alert students of the dangers of carbon monoxide.

“It’s not touched upon as it should be, but it’s one of those things that have to be watched carefully,” he said. “And without a carbon monoxide alarm somewhere in the cabin, you shouldn’t be running any type of engine when you’re docked.”

In May, Minnesota became the first state to require carbon monoxide detectors on some boats, three years after a 7-year-old girl died on Lake Minnetonka when the gas leaked from a hole in an exhaust pipe on her family’s boat.

“It shouldn’t take a tragedy like that to do something about it,” Cameron said.

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