ESPN E:60 Calls Attention to Dangers of Indoor Air Quality at Ice Arenas

The ESPN program E:60 recently reported on the dangers posed by improperly tuned ice resurfacing equipment and ventilation problems in indoor ice arenas. This 13-minute long report claims that in 28 rinks that they tested that used propane or natural gas ice resurfacers, "nearly one-third were found to have dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide or ultrafine particles."

These are serious claims and the matter deserves further investigation. Over the years that I've been involved in the sport of ice hockey, I have heard about a number of serious outcomes and close calls as a result of indoor air quality problems at hockey rinks. One example is a game that occurred in September 2002 at Lehigh Valley Ice Arena that sent 25 college hockey players and coaches to the hospital complaining of "shortness of breath and a burning sensation in their throats and chests." [ Note: Sorry for the link to an article excerpt. This was the only way I could find to cite a published story referring to this event. ]

In my opinion, the questions that should be asked after watching this ESPN report are:

  • How widespread is this problem in 2009?
  • How often do indoor air quality problems that could cause a medical issue go uncorrected for a significant period of time?
  • How many hockey players, figure skaters, and speed skaters that have asthma experience exacerbations as a result of air quality inside the facilities where they perform?
In doing research on this issue after watching the ESPN report, I found a followup article from the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin which casts some doubt on the significance of the air quality measurement that ESPN did at Chenango Ice Rink in Chenango Bridge, NY. The article says the following:

Reached at the Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, Fred Berman - the director of the Toxicology Information Center - labeled that result of 59 {parts per million of carbon monoxide} more interesting than concerning. He said further study, preferably over a broader window of time, would be needed before the air was determined a hazard.

The article goes on to point out that Berman considered average overall exposure to indoor air pollution to be more important than a "snapshot in time" which is what the ESPN figures for this arena might be.

Regardless of what you think after seeing the ESPN report and reading the article from the Binghamton newspaper, this is a fascinating investigation that anyone involved in ice sports should keep watching.