Several Sioux Falls youth hockey players were hit with the side effects of high levels of carbon monoxide after a practice at the Sioux Falls Ice and Recreation Center this week. More than a dozen players felt sick, and four of them went to the emergency room.
Inside an ice rink, high levels of carbon monoxide can be blamed on the propane-powered Zamboni that drives around the rink and smoothes the ice. Most of the time the levels are mild, but we learned this week there is always a potential for the odorless gas to pose a danger to players.
"So it's as if you're suffocating yourself because you can't get oxygen delivered to your tissues, and so that's what makes it dangerous," Dr. Beth Lapka, who works in the Sanford Trauma 5 emergency room, said.
Lapka says carbon monoxide latches onto red blood cells and chokes out the oxygen circulating through your body.
If you're exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide, and taking part in a strenuous activity like hockey, the symptoms can be worse because the body needs oxygen during those times.
"So definitely physical activity can actually potentiate the effects of carbon monoxide exposure," Lapka said.
Tests showed the players exposed this week had levels of carbon monoxide between 14 and 17 parts per million in their system.
"Anything above ten we would consider to be a toxic level. Then, as the levels increase, say you get the levels near 30, those are exceptionally dangerous levels. At that point, you're usually seeing severe injury or unconsciousness," Lapka said.
But unless someone is exposed to high levels for a long period of time, Lapka says there shouldn't be any lasting side effects.
"It's about the length of the exposure. If it's for a short period of time and then those numbers drop, or you're all of a sudden out of that area, the effects are minimal if any," Lapka said.
That is positive news for the players who were exposed to the toxic gas this week.