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Skating On Fumes

February 17, 2011, 9:55 PM by Perry Groten

Skating On Fumes
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Kids who strap on their skates at indoor ice rinks are finding themselves more and more on thin ice when it comes to the air they breathe.

Earlier this month, more than 60 hockey players in Colorado became sick after being exposed to carbon monoxide. Nationwide, more than 250 skaters have been treated for carbon monoxide poisoning over the past two years. In most cases, the culprit has been those ice-grooming machines that spin around the rink.

We wanted to to see if carbon monoxide is also an issue at Sioux Falls' indoor ice rink. We put the Ice & Rec Center to the test.

The biggest danger facing young hockey players these days might not just be a vicious check on the ice.

"So basically, it will asphyxiate your blood cells," Al Hallstrom of Aire Serv Heating & Air Conditioning said.

The potentially deadly effects of carbon monoxide aren't just a concern in the home. More and more, they're becoming a focus inside ice arenas.

"It doesn't just disappear, it's a gas," Hallstrom said.

Sioux Falls Ice & Rec grooms the ice with a propane-powered Zamboni machine. Even though propane burns cleaner than gasoline, the Zamboni still puts exhaust fumes into the air.

"If it's in here, it needs to be ventilated or it's going to stay in here," Hallstrom said.

We had Hallstrom test the air inside the Ice & Rec Center.

"See, now you have CO, carbon monoxide is at 19 parts per million," Hallstrom said.

Using hand-held meters, Hallstrom conducted his first round of tests the day after the Zamboni was last used. He's troubled by the 20 parts per million peak, considering it's been hours since the machine was powered-up.

No carbon monoxide would be a good level," Hallstrom said.

Then Hallstrom checked the levels as the Zamboni drove on the ice.

"It's at 29 right now," Hallstrom said.

The levels kept climbing, reaching a peak at 62 parts per million. Hallstrom expected levels to top 100, but he's still bothered by the meter reading. Federal OSHA standards say carbon monoxide should not exceed 50 parts per million over an 8-hour period. And again, Hallstrom's meters showed 62 parts per million.

"I wouldn't want to be up here for a long period of time with it," Hallstrom said.

Hallstrom reported his finding to Gary Weckwerth, the CEO of the Sioux Falls Stampede, the USHL hockey team that practices here.

"So it doubled when we put the Zamboni out there is what you're saying," Weckwerth said.
"Yeah, essentially," Hallstrom said.

Weckwerth says the Zamboni receives regular maintenance through the year and is overhauled by mechanics each summer in Wisconsin to make sure it runs at top efficiency. Plus, ventilation fans are blowing air out of the building whenever the Zamboni is on the ice. To Weckwerth, the 62 parts per million reading is somewhat of a pleasant surprise.

"It's like a car driving around in here, there should be something. I guess I would look at it as I was surprised it wasn't higher and so I'm glad to see it was as low as it is," Weckwerth said.

These high school players have been on the ice for about 10 minutes and it's been a good half-hour since the Zamboni made its final pass on the ice and we're still registering 45 parts per million of carbon monoxide.

"The key there is how long they're in that environment and how often? And what those health effects are going to be on them," Hallstrom said.

But Weckwerth says skaters aren't on the ice for any longer than two hours at a time.

"The Stampede practices longer than some of the other teams do and they're here for at least an hour-and-a-half to two hours every day, and we've never had any issues with any of the players. The rest, like youth hockey and the younger kids, they're here 45 minutes to an hour, and then they're off the ice," Weckwerth said.

Weckwerth says no skaters, at any level, have ever shown the slightest symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure. He credits that to the precautions taken to make sure safety is the number-one goal when kids take the ice.

Weckwerth says the Ice and Rec Center's carbon monoxide detectors have never gone off while kids are skating.

Some cities have switched to zero-emission electric ice grooming machines. But Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation Director Don Kearney says they cost twice as much as regular machines.

Meanwhile, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only states with laws requiring carbon monoxide testing inside ice arenas.

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