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.