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Ice Arenas: Indoor Air Quality

[fa icon="calendar"] Aug 18, 2015 9:10:33 AM / by Martin Barry, PhD, PE, CIH, CSP


In December 2014, 81 spectators and players suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning after attending a minor league hockey game between the Dells Ducks and the Ice Hawks. They were hospitalized and treated for a range of symptoms including dizziness, nausea, headaches, vomiting and fainting. The cause? Local fire department officials linked the leak to the rink’s ice resurfacing machine.


The importance of proper ventilation

The situation in Wisconsin is not the first time that ice resurfacing vehicles were to blame for  illnesses. In 2011, a number of New Hampshire hockey players at an indoor hockey rink were showing signs of acute respiratory symptoms. These included cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain and tightness – all symptoms that are consistent with exposure to nitrogen dioxide gas (NO2). Of the 43 people exposed, 31 had symptoms consistent with NO2 exposure.

The hockey rink repaired their ventilation system in an effort to remedy the situation – and after the repair, no additional cases were identified.

These two examples of illness caused by poor indoor air quality demonstrate the importance of ventilation and alarms in indoor arenas. It is important that ice arena operators ensure ventilations systems and alarms are installed and operating properly. Monitoring NO2 and carbon monoxide continuously provides early detection of increased gas levels, and improves the safety of the arena for skaters, hockey players and spectators. 

Gas vs. Electric Ice Resurfacing

The most straightforward way to resolve indoor air quality problems due to gas powered ice resurfacing is to buy new, electric powered resurfacing equipment.  However, for many small arenas in particular, this involves a major investment and replacing a functional piece of equipment.  Also, electric powered models are much more expensive than comparable gas powered models.

Environmental Protection Agency insights

The EPA issued warnings about these carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide dangers. Over the past five years, new EPA standards took effect for emissions from ice resurfacing equipment. New machines that meet the most stringent EPA standards reduce hydrocarbon emissions by about 71 percent, nitrous oxide emissions by about 80 percent, and carbon monoxide emissions by about 57 percent.

EPA Actions Steps for Ice Arena Owners and Managers 

On the EPA’s website, they provide specific steps for ice arena owners and managers to take in order to protect indoor air quality at their facilities, including:

  • Educate workers on their role in protecting occupants including children and indoor air quality. 
  • Establish, implement and assure procedures for preventing poor air quality and responding to indoor air complaints and emergencies.
  • Exhaust of contaminants and supply of fresh outdoor air are necessary to maintain good air quality in ice arenas. Provide continuous ventilation whenever the rink is occupied.
  • Provide adequate mechanical ventilation to exhaust contaminated air from combustion sources to the outdoors (and away from occupants), and to provide fresh outdoor air to occupied areas. At a minimum use ventilation requirements for sports arenas as described in the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers' (ASHRAE) Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality, Standard 62.1-2007 or most recent edition, including the use of additional dilution ventilation and /or source control when using combustion equipment. The International Ice Hockey Federation, in their technical guidelines for an ice rink, recommends equipping the facility with two ventilation units, one for the rink area and one for public areas.
  • Ensure that the fresh air intake is not located near the exhaust from loading areas and outside vehicles, and that the intake is not blocked.
  • Consider replacing older equipment that does not meet current EPA emissions standards with newer compliant equipment, if possible. If not, consider upgrade of current equipment to use most efficient burning fuel type available and pollution control devices.
  • Warm up resurfacing equipment in a well-ventilated room or a room equipped with a local exhaust.
  • Use ice edgers only when the ventilation system can adequately exhaust the emissions. Keep arena gates open during resurfacing to allow for better air circulation.
  • At a minimum, establish a system of monitoring air quality (e.g. taking concentration measurements in the arena and on the ice) especially for major combustion pollutants during and shortly after use of any fuel-fired equipment.
  • Have all combustion equipment such as resurfacers, edgers, forklifts, water pumps and auxiliary generators regularly maintained by a qualified technician.

Over the past 13 years, CCA has worked with ice arena operators on their capital improvement projects at multiple rinks. Click here for more information on those programs or contact us using our simple contact form.

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Topics: Engineering, Environmental, Insurance