Study finds health hazards at rinks

Updated: April 15, 2009, 11:47 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Indoor ice arenas with poorly maintained ice-resurfacing machines and inadequate ventilation are creating potentially dangerous health hazards for players, coaches, fans and workers at rinks in several states around the country, according to an investigation by ESPN's "E:60."

In the past six months, nearly 200 people have been sickened by carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide or ultrafine particles emitted from poorly maintained ice resurfacers at indoor ice arenas.

"E:60" conducted its own series of tests at 34 rinks in 14 states. Of the 28 rinks that used propane or natural gas resurfacers, nearly one-third were found to have dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide or ultrafine particles.

One of those rinks was in Tampa, Fla., where the East Lake High School hockey team took the ice in January for a practice at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy. Players struggled to breathe during practice and as the night wore on, their symptoms worsened.

"I was playing normal, and then halfway through practice, my chest started feeling weird," said East Lake player Alex Miller. "I had trouble breathing."

Ice-resurfacing machines that run either on propane or natural gas are safe when properly maintained. But poorly maintained machines can release high levels of emissions that are even more dangerous in rinks with poor ventilation.

"When you walk into that rink, you can taste it, you can taste the air," says Ray Welsh, whose son skates at a local ice rink in Binghamton, N.Y. "It's like playing in your garage with everything shut and the car running. I work in toll booths and you can smell the diesel trucks when they come through and that's what, that's pretty much what it's like in there."

Last December, carbon monoxide poisoning at a rink near Indianapolis sent 10 people to the hospital. In January, firefighters evacuated a rink outside Denver when carbon monoxide levels reached 10 times what's considered dangerous. In March, fumes from a poorly maintained ice resurfacer sent 100 people to the hospital and forced four teams to withdraw from a college tournament outside Cleveland.

Minnesota, Massachusetts and Rhode Island are the only states with laws regulating air quality at indoor ice rinks.

USA Hockey, with nearly 600,000 youth and adult hockey members, has no direct control over the nation's 2,000 rinks. Following the "E:60" investigation, USA Hockey told "E:60" that the organization had sent letters to the governors of the other 47 states urging them to adopt similar legislation.