Although the Environmental Protection Agency provides indoor air quality guidelines for recreational facilities, including ice arenas, regarding ventilation practices and air quality standards, those guidelines are not always heeded by operators of such facilities. Parents must be aware of the indoor quality of ice arenas where their children are spending time, playing hockey, ice skating, etc., especially when those arenas use fuel-burning machines indoors, including ice resurfacers and edgers.
The EPA explains that indoor pollution is the problem with indoor arenas and air quality. Inadequate ventilation can result in raised indoor pollutant levels, as too little outdoor air is brought to the inside to dilute emissions from indoor pollutant sources, such as resufacers. Additionally, high temperatures and humidity levels may increase the air concentration of some pollutants. Primary sources of air pollutants in indoor ice arenas include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM) released into the air from the exhaust produced by fuel-fired ice resurfacers and edgers, whether the fuel is gasoline, propane or diesel.
New machines, electric resurface edgers and resurfacers, meet the most stringent EPA standards. These non-fuel-fired machines reduce hydrocarbon emissions by approximately 71 percent; nitrous oxide emissions by approximately 80 percent; and carbon monoxide emissions by approximately 57 percent. But, many rinks continue to use fuel-fired models.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a particular concern in ice rinks using fuel-fired machines. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and poisonous, and parents may be unaware that their children are being poisoned when they begin showing low-level symptoms such as shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches. Moderate exposure levels can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea or fainting. The symptoms, which are similar to the flu, may lead parents to think that a child who has been on the ice is coming down with a cold, flu, even food poisoning. But, long-term exposure to carbon monoxide can leave lasting effects on the body. At the most severe levels of carbon monoxide poisoning, loss of consciousness and even death can occur.
While children are frequently thought of as being the main targets of this type of carbon monoxide poisoning, simply because of the amount of time they may spend in ice rinks, playing and practicing, adults should be concerned about their own health, as well. In addition to children, elderly people and those with heart disease can be particularly susceptible, and the fetuses of pregnant women are at risk, as well.
In addition to carbon monoxide poisoning, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter exposure are also health risks. Nitrogen dioxide is a highly reactive oxidant and corrosive, and can affect the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract, causing shortness of breath. Low-level exposure can lead to increased bronchial reactivity in asthmatics; decreased lung function in COPD patients; and increased risk of respiratory infections. Continued exposure can result in acute or chronic bronchitis, while high levels of exposure can cause pulmonary edema. Particulate matter is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets, made up of many components, including acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil and dust. When inhaled, they can affect the heart, lungs, and cause serious health problems.
If parents begin seeing the warning signs of high pollutants in their kids or, of course, themselves, they should limit or cease exposure immediately, speak with the arena management, get fresh air immediately and seek immediate medical attention. Also, parents should, as a preventative, speak to the arena owners and managers, and learn more about the ice arena where their child is spending time—are they using fuel-fired resurfacers/edgers, or is the equipment electric? Is the ventilation system adequate, and is fresh air supplied to occupied areas of the arena? Are there carbon monoxide detectors installed in the arena?
For more information about indoor air quality and ice arenas, visit the EPA website.