NBC TODAY Show Reports Significant CO Hazard at Ice Arenas


A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P | | Thursday, February 10, 2011

On Thursday, Feb 10, the NBC Today Show reported that hundreds of thousands of children and adults are subjected to carbon monoxide poisoning at indoor ice hockey and ice skating arenas due to fumes generated by fuel-powered ice resurfacing and edging machines.

NBC’s Jeff Rossen noted that to keep area surfaces from melting ice areas are tightly sealed structures with limited ventilation and heating. Because of this, the Today Show special reported that in the past year alone 250 people have been seriously poisoned by CO fumes in ice arenas. Former Ice Capades star, Linda Davis, was interviewed for this special report and stated that the cumulative exposures she has experienced since she started skating at the age of 6 have caused her to have memory lapses and lung damage so severe that she’s required to use a respirator.

Last weekend, 61 people were transported to Denver area hospitals after CO inside an enclosed ice area caused them all to receive dangerously high CO levels after a gasoline-powered ice resurfacer was used during a children’s ice hockey match.

NBC hired certified industrial hygienists to use fixed and handheld sensors after just one sweep of an older, fuel-powered ice resurfacer in a Pittston Pa., ice arena in and found dangerously high levels that triggered device alarms after just five minutes. Pennsylvania state guidelines deem the environment unsafe at 20 ppm. The level at the time of the alarms was 60 ppm, three times that level.

The industrial hygienist commissioned by the Today Show stated that adverse health effects and damage to the heart, lungs and brain can begin to occur after exposure to 100,000 particles of CO and a reading of 209,000 was present when the alarms were triggered.  Incredibly, even an hour after the gas powered machines had been shut down, readings remained at unsafe levels in the arena and forced the evacuation of the staff, scientists and news crew members until the facility could be properly ventilated.

NBC reported that there are currently no federal laws requiring clean air in ice arenas and only three states, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, regulate air quality in their arenas.  It was reported that many ice arenas continue to use fuel-powered ice resurfacers because modern, battery-powered vehicles, such as the one currently in use at the Pa. facility, cost twice as much to purchase. Officials from the EPA and four members of Congress declined to speak to Rossen when he contacted their offices.

EMS and fire agencies should meet with officials at their local enclosed ice skating and ice hockey facilities to discuss the hazards of CO, the need for interior CO detectors/alarms to alert occupants of unsafe CO levels and ensure that medical staff are properly trained to detect and assess CO poisoning on athletes, spectators and employees.

For more on this important topic, read the October 2010 JEMS supplement, The Silent Killer: CO monitoring adds a new dimension to firefighter rehab and emergency care. (Click here)

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Related Topics: News, Medical Emergencies, NBC Today Show, indoor ice hockey rinks, ice skating arenas, CO detectors, CO alarms, carbon monoxide poisoning

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A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P

JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P, has a background as an EMS director and EMS operations director. He specializes in MCI management.


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