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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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Carbon Monoxide / Nitrogen Dioxide Levels Dangerously High At Many Ice Rinks

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Heading out for hockey practice? Make sure you have all your equipment…

Skates? Check.
Helmet? Check.
Gas mask? Wait, what?!

At many rinks, this might be an essential piece of equipment.

Jeff Rosen, NBC News investigator, exposed the alarming dangers many face at their neighborhood rink in his Today Show report:

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The Today Show’s report showed how, within one sweep around the rink of the ice resurfacer, alarms on detectors began screaming. The carbon monoxide levels were 3 times higher than the EPA’s danger levels. Ultra fine particles were also at very dangerous levels. These levels were still so high one hour after the machine had been shut off that the rink had to be evacuated.

The investigation had been triggered after fourteen-year-old Tyler Fisher of Minnesota was hospitalized last week with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning after a hockey game. Later his whole team was tested and found with CO poisoning as well.

This problem with dangerous, debilitating toxic air in ice arenas is not new. This problem is well-known in the industry and stretches back over years:

Invisible Danger

This deadly threat catches so many off guard because carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas. Low levels of exposure can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea, and mild headaches, and may have longer term effects on your health. Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning, or other illnesses, many simply do not suspect that carbon monoxide poisoning could be the cause.

At moderate levels, you or your family can get severe headaches, become dizzy, mentally confused, nauseated, or faint. At high levels, CO can cause loss of consciousness or death. Fetuses, children, elderly people and people with heart disease can be especially susceptible.

Skaters are at more risk than spectators since the toxic fumes can linger on the ice surface and even bind in the ice itself.

Even low level exposure can be deadly over time. Exposures at low levels do not create symptoms that might alert one of poisoning. But, for those who put in hours of practice, like hockey players and figure skaters, the cumulative effect can be devastating.

Such was the case for Linda Davis, former Ice Capades dancer, featured in the Today Show report. She was diagnosed with long-term carbon monoxide poisoning, which has left her with chronic lung and memory problems and requires her to use a respirator. “It started small, and then it progressed into completely debilitating me,” she said.

Health officials say public awareness is important because hockey and figure skating are booming in popularity and more people are spending time inside ice arenas. The number of children playing hockey nationwide is soaring after USA played in the Olympic gold medal games for both men and women. USA Hockey, which governs the sport, now boasts of over 600,000 members.

Only three states — Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island — impose clean-air rules on ice arenas. Operators in those states are required to test for buildup of exhaust fumes and to evacuate their arenas if levels are high.

Thomas H. Morton, an attorney for Frank J. Zamboni & Co., the largest and best-known manufacturer of ice resurfacers, said his company issues safety notices every two years to rinks and arenas where Zambonis are in use. He said detailed fume and ventilation warnings also are contained in Zamboni operating manuals.

"This has been a subject that has been heavily advertised in the industry," Morton said. "I think the public needs to be aware of the dangers."

There are an estimated 1,700 ice arenas in the United States and every one uses ice-resurfacing machines. In a busy rink, the machines are used many times a day to put a fresh, smooth glaze on the ice. Rinks often run 24 hours a day with high demand for rental time around the clock.

Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) Poisoning May Be Recognized Too Late

In addition to CO dangers, fuel-powered Zambonis, resurfacers, and edgers also produce nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and dangerous particulate matter.

High concentrations of NO2 can be produced by fuel powered ice resurfacers (like a Zamboni) and, because NO2 is heavier than air, the toxic fumes settle directly over the ice.

Often, those with acute carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning seek fresh air before the effects become too severe. However, symptoms of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) poisoning may not peak until 24 hours after exposure. Adding to the problem, NO2 symptoms mimic other problems such as pulmonary adema, which may result in delayed or missed diagnosis.

Simple Remedies To Eliminate Dangers

Four simple remedies are available and well-known throughout the ice arena industry:

(1) Keep equipment properly maintained. Improperly maintained fuel-powered resurfacers emit much higher levels of toxic fumes.

(2) Properly ventilate arenas. In many of the cases where attendees were hospitalized, the ventilation systems were off or malfunctioning.

(3) Install CO and NO2 monitoring systems in all ice arenas to alert attendees when toxic fumes reach hazardous levels.

(4) Replace older resurfacers. Newer fuel-powered resurfacers are designed to lower dangerous emissions. Better yet, electric resurfacers eliminate all emissions completely!


Ice arenas may balk at the expense of replacing their resurfacers. But these machines are at the source of the problem, a problem that may be even more widespread than presently recognized. NO2 poisoning symptoms do not show up right away and are not as clear as CO poisoning. Often the symptoms are confused with other medical issues and, therefore, misdiagnosed.

What About Your Local Arena?

Jeff Rosen with the Today Show closed his report with three recommendations:

(1) Ask your ice arena owner what kind of resurfacer is used: electric or fuel-powered.

(2) If fuel-powered, ask if the arena is equipped with a carbon monoxide detector.

(3) If no CO detectors, skaters and parents should be vigilant about CO poisoning warning signs. If you or your child feels dizzy or lazy at the rink or shortly after, don’t simply blow it off. Those are serious signs of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison