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Investigation Shows Carbon Monoxide at Ice Rinks is a Common Danger, Especially for Children

4 comments

February 10, 2011

An investigation by the Today Show says children who skate and play hockey at indoor ice rinks, and those who work in these facilities, are at risk for short and long-term side effects of carbon monoxide exposure.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas created by the combustion of carbon-based fuels.

The show illustrates the dangers from the fumes of fuel powered ice maintenance equipment, such as those used at most neighborhood ice rinks around the country, inside these facilities that have little or no ventilation.

To test carbon monoxide levels after the use of ice maintenance equipment, Today set up an experiment. After 5 minutes of a fuel powered ice-resurfacing machine operating, scientists measured the CO and ultra fine particle levels at child level on the rink and found them to be above safe levels. Even an hour later, levels remained too high and scientists halted the experiment and evacuated the building.

Symptoms of CO poisoning can include headache, dizziness, weakness, fainting, vomiting and confusion. High levels of CO in the body can cause profound central nervous system effects, coma and death. Over time, CO exposure can cause neurological, heart, lung and brain damage.

Today profiled a 14-year-old boy who ended up in the hospital with CO poisoning after competing in a hockey game. The show also showed the long-term effects CO exposure had on a woman who skated from the time she was a young girl, until debilitating CO related lung disease, neurological and memory problems ended her career with the Ice Capades years later.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Skaters especially may be at risk for CO poisoning because they are engaged in strenuous activity that increases total lung ventilation and oxygen consumption.”

Reuters reported that on February 6, 2011, high levels of carbon monoxide sickened more than sixty people at a youth hockey tournament in Gunnison, CO. Two young girls required treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber and were flown to a Denver hospital. The Jorgensen Event Center where the poisoning occurred did not have a carbon monoxide detection system, despite being only three years old. According to the Crested Butte News, a faulty ventilation system allowed carbon monoxide from a gas powered Zamboni to build up inside the facility. The rink remains closed pending the installation of a complete carbon monoxide detection system.

However, these are not the only mass carbon monoxide poisonings to take place at ice rinks.

An article in an April 5, 1996 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a publication of the CDC, entitled Carbon Monoxide Poisoning at an Indoor Ice Arena and Bingo Hall called for awareness and prevention of CO poisoning in these venues.

It detailed a March 16, 1996 incident in which an indoor ice arena and bingo hall in Seattle, WA had to be and 67 people transported to area hospitals suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning from a malfunctioning diesel powered ice resurfacing machine and lack of ventilation. Paramedics intubated two people who were in acute respiratory distress.

Even earlier, a MMWR article entitled Carbon Monoxide Intoxication Associated with Use of a Gasoline-Powered Resurfacing Machine at an Ice-Skating Rink published on February 3, 1983 told of 15 teenage hockey players succumbing to CO poisoning at an enclosed ice rink in Chester County, PA.

Despite hundreds of people poisoned by CO at indoor ice rinks each year, there remains little regulation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only has recommendations how arenas can prevent poor indoor air quality. Only Minnesota, Massachusetts and Rhode Island require testing of CO levels inside ice rinks.

The use of electric ice maintenance equipment could prevent this dangerous problem. However, equipment such as an electric ice resurfacer costs twice as much as a fuel powered model.

The Today show was unsuccessful in gaining support for this cause from government officials and recommended that people ask ice rink facilities if they use electric or fuel powered ice maintenance equipment. If the rink uses fuel powered, they should ask if the facility has a carbon monoxide detection system.

4 Comments

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    Very real problem in rinks that don’t test and keep up with their equipment, we have had a number of these cases in Minnesota. Thanks for highlighting the dangers.

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    I was both saddened (that it is still happening)and pleased (that you brought it into the open)to hear your presentation on the ever present danger of CO poisoning in Ice rinks as well as other enclosed areas. As a survivor of cronic CO poisoning myself I am aware of the consequences of ignorance. so many people ignore the telltale signs of poisoning: weakness, lathargy, glassy eyes, headaches, confusion and write it off as something far less dangerous. For over 30 years I’ve done my best to inform everyone I come in contact with about this insidious gas. You’ve accomplished more good with this than I could ever hope to. The industrial accident I was involved in resulted in two years of amnesia and confusion lingering for years after that disrupting the lives of myself and my family in a horrible way. Not a fun thing. You will find it chronicled in the 2008 toxicology Medical Journal on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning bu Dr. David G. Penney. Chapter 32
    Although there is much more to do, you have done an excellent thing and very likely prevented countless unnecessary suffering. Thank you for me and thousands of other survivors and victims. Joseph A. Cramer

  3. DON TAYLOR says:
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    I hope it’s NOT too late to comment. I NEVER saw your piece until TODAY !(referring to the ESPN30 piece). It WAS WHILE SEARCHING FOR THE NBC today’s show PIECE on this very subject that brought it to light to me.
    I have video-taped many games over a 2 1/2 yr. time frame here in So. Florida sometimes spending as much as 5 hrs in a rink-4 games including 4-5 trips by the Zambonni. I have become very ill many times following games. I’ve needed MANY Dr. appointments and treatment for ASTHMATIC & BRONCHITIS SYMPTOMS. It was debilitating–I began to think what the hell is wrong w/ me…until I watched the NBC STORY & today watched your detailed NEWS. So I am not nuts !! This stuff IS REAL–I HAVE REALLY BEEN ILL and sick for days w/ what was thought to be severe flu & bronchitis. please feel free to reach me I’d like to make contributions. Thank you !!! DON TAYLOR HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA
    If we fail to learn from history we are doomed to repeat the mistake we made.
    God Bless AMERICA

  4. Jonathan Pickett says:
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    There is another answer to fixing the problem without buying an electric unit. A company called Global Emissions out of Whitby Cananda makes a Dry Selective Catalytic Converter system that bolts on to the ice resurfacer. This unit removes a 100% of the CO2 and Hydrocarbons and also removes 99.8% of the NitrogenOxide. Cost around 1300 dollars and doesnt require any special tools to install. These units work with all fossil fuel burning engine combonations. Global Emissions also make units for the ice edgers which no one has brought up but they produce tons of NOx, Co and Hg and there units reduce these units emissions to almost nothing also.