Federal Indifference Keeps Safety Standards on Ice

EDMONTON, AB - NOVEMBER 30:  A general view of the skating rink inside the West Edmonton Mall photographed on November 30, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
National Journal
Alex Brown
Oct. 2, 2013, 6:21 p.m.

What if the gov­ern­ment could craft a rule that would make mil­lions of people safer, re­duce car­bon emis­sions, and come with the sup­port of the in­dustry it reg­u­lates? It isn’t a dream — three states have had it on the books for years — but there ap­pears to be no mo­mentum for such le­gis­la­tion on the fed­er­al level.

The rule? Man­dat­ory test­ing of car­bon-monox­ide levels at in­door ice rinks, which num­ber roughly 2,000 na­tion­wide. Much like a car left run­ning in the gar­age, the emis­sions giv­en off by some ice re­sur­facers — of­ten called Zam­boni ma­chines, after the name of their most pop­u­lar brand — can be harm­ful if not prop­erly vent­il­ated. The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency has is­sued warn­ings about these car­bon-monox­ide and ni­tro­gen-di­ox­ide dangers, but only Mas­sachu­setts, Min­nesota, and Rhode Is­land have taken steps to keep skaters at rinks safe from these gases.

It’s not as if the prob­lem is new. In 2009, ES­PN re­por­ted that car­bon monox­ide had sickened 200 people at ice rinks in a six-month span. Tests by the net­work found that nearly a third of rinks us­ing fossil-fuel-powered re­sur­facers had haz­ard­ous levels of car­bon monox­ide, ni­tro­gen di­ox­ide, or ul­trafine particles. A 2011 fea­ture by NBC’s Today Show re­por­ted on one in­cid­ent that saw 60 people hos­pit­al­ized and found that more than 250 had suffered from car­bon-monox­ide pois­on­ing over the pre­vi­ous two years.

Su­z­anne Con­don, as­so­ci­ate com­mis­sion­er for health at the Mas­sachu­setts De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health, helped write that state’s in­door ice-rink air-qual­ity law in 1997. Child­hood asthma rates, she said, were the im­petus for the reg­u­la­tion. “You used to be able to look down that row of kids on the bench [dur­ing youth hockey games], and prob­ably a third of those kids were us­ing in­halers,” she said.

In Rhode Is­land, arena man­agers have been re­quired to take daily car­bon-monox­ide read­ings since 1990, with man­dat­ory cor­rect­ive ac­tions for spe­cif­ic levels. That has boos­ted aware­ness of car­bon-monox­ide is­sues and helped rinks fix their prob­lems, said Joseph Wendelken, a spokes­man for the state’s De­part­ment of Health. “After the law, I re­ceived no more com­plaints of head­aches from hockey refs and fig­ure-skat­ing judges,” he said.

The rules are even tough­er in Min­nesota. Earli­er this year, it beefed up its air-qual­ity stand­ards, which have been on the books since 1973, for rinks. Over the past year, the state has seen just 2 per­cent of ice rinks ex­ceed­ing the man­dated level, said Dan Tranter, su­per­visor of the Min­nesota De­part­ment of Health’s In­door Air Unit. That num­ber has jumped to 10 per­cent since the stricter rule took ef­fect in May, but Tranter ex­pects it to come down once rinks grow ac­cus­tomed to the new stand­ard.

Air-qual­ity com­pli­ance has been even more uni­ver­sal in Mas­sachu­setts, Con­don said. “We tested a vari­ety of rinks in the mid-‘90s. We did see el­ev­ated levels of car­bon monox­ide and ni­tro­gen di­ox­ide,” she said. Now? “It’s been at least a few years since we’ve even seen a level that was above the cor­rect­ive ac­tion lim­it.”

In the ES­PN in­vest­ig­a­tion, car­bon-monox­ide levels were found to be roughly 10 times high­er in states that had no test­ing re­quire­ments. In non-test­ing states, 11 of the 22 rinks sur­veyed found car­bon-monox­ide levels ex­ceed­ing Min­nesota’s best-in-the-na­tion stand­ard of 20 parts per mil­lion.

And it’s not as if the pub­lic-safety be­ne­fits have come at the ex­pense of an in­dustry, nor have they met much op­pos­i­tion from those who are forced to com­ply. “By and large our aren­as … are ac­cept­ing of the rules,” Tranter said. “They want to en­sure a safe en­vir­on­ment for their pat­rons.”

Arena man­agers backed that up. Al­most a dozen op­er­at­ors in Rhode Is­land and Mas­sachu­setts re­spon­ded to an email ques­tion dis­trib­uted by the North East Ice Skat­ing Man­agers As­so­ci­ation for Na­tion­al Journ­al. None said the test­ing re­quire­ments had been a fin­an­cial or lo­gist­ic­al bur­den, and most said the stand­ards were an im­port­ant safety meas­ure. Many ex­pressed hope that oth­er states would fol­low suit.

STAR Rinks, a na­tion­wide in­dustry or­gan­iz­a­tion, tells its mem­bers to es­tab­lish test­ing stand­ards, even if their state doesn’t man­date mon­it­or­ing.

So, why no ap­pet­ite for fed­er­al le­gis­la­tion?

“It’s hard to un­der­stand,” Con­don said, adding that lack of aware­ness has res­ul­ted in little pres­sure for new rules.

In 2002, EPA tightened emis­sions stand­ards for new re­sur­facers, but many ma­chines pred­at­ing that rule are still in op­er­a­tion, and even the im­proved mod­els can cause prob­lems in rinks that are not prop­erly vent­il­ated.

EPA reg­u­lat­ors did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. Aides to en­vir­on­ment­al poli­cy­makers in the House in­dic­ated that no le­gis­la­tion is in the works, but a Sen­ate aide said two sen­at­ors plan to hold a hear­ing to in­vest­ig­ate the is­sue. They did not provide de­tails.

Reg­u­la­tion or not, some ice-rink man­agers have de­cided the simplest way to keep skaters safe is to switch to elec­tric re­sur­facers. That has be­come a trend in test­ing-law states, some reg­u­lat­ors said, where mak­ing the switch can elim­in­ate com­pli­ance is­sues. “We have seen an in­crease in elec­tric ma­chine sales in those states with re­quired test­ing,” said Frank Zam­boni, the grand­son of the ice re­sur­facer’s in­vent­or and the ex­ec­ut­ive vice pres­id­ent of Zam­boni Co., the Ca­na­dian sis­ter com­pany of the Para­mount, Cal­if.-based man­u­fac­turer.

While elec­tric re­sur­facers are 35 per­cent to 40 per­cent more ex­pens­ive, he said, cheap­er op­er­at­ing costs can off­set the ini­tial pur­chase price. Zam­boni de­clined to weigh in on po­ten­tial le­gis­la­tion or reg­u­la­tion, but he did em­phas­ize the crit­ic­al need for air-qual­ity test­ing.

“It really isn’t our place to state a pref­er­ence between vol­un­tary and man­dated emis­sion test­ing; we simply feel that it is im­port­ant that it be done on a daily basis while the ice rink is in op­er­a­tion,” Zam­boni said.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Maher Weighs in on Bernie, Trump and Palin
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

“We haven’t seen a true leftist since FDR, so many millions are coming out of the woodwork to vote for Bernie Sanders; he is the Occupy movement now come to life in the political arena.” So says Bill Maher in his Hollywood Reporter cover story (more a stream-of-consciousness riff than an essay, actually). Conservative states may never vote for a socialist in the general election, but “this stuff has never been on the table, and these voters have never been activated.” Maher saves most of his bile for Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, writing that by nominating Palin as vice president “John McCain is the one who opened the Book of the Dead and let the monsters out.” And Trump is picking up where Palin left off.

Source:
×