Lawmakers look into ice rink air quality
By Don Davis
Forum State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- Linda Davis taught figure skating for more than 15 years, taking her time on the ice after hockey players were done.
A year ago, Davis was diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning that she blames on her years in the ice arenas that skaters, hockey players, coaches and parents visit throughout Minnesota.
Bills making their way through the Minnesota Legislature are aimed at improving ice rink air quality, especially by reducing carbon monoxide and nitrous dioxide, both produced by internal combustion engines.
Davis began experiencing headaches, fatigue and memory problems four years ago.
"Then my symptoms increased to a point of debilitating me," the West St. Paul, Minn., resident told a Minnesota House health committee Tuesday. "I had body aches, dizziness, lightheadedness, respiratory problems, heart arrhythmia and intense weakness in my legs and arms, and even numbness and tingling."
Davis, who requires daily oxygen treatment, said her memory was failing and her skin was gray by the time she was diagnosed.
Davis blamed carbon monoxide created by ice resurfacing devices, such as the well-known Zamboni machines.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-West St. Paul, said recent incidents in Morris, Woodbury and Osseo in which hockey players reported illnesses blamed on carbon monoxide or nitrous dioxide illustrate the need for a bill like his.
The committee approved Hansen's bill, with several "no" votes, sending it to at least two more committees before it reaches the full House.
The bill would require ice rinks to be state licensed, that rink operators would receive training to use ice resurfacers and that engines be equipped with devices to reduce dangerous emissions.
Knowing how to proceed is difficult, Hansen said. "There is not a lot of science there."
Hansen suggested that funds to upgrading facilities come from the Mighty Ducks program, designed to build ice rinks, but he is concerned that money has not been placed in the fund for years.
"We don't want it where the poor areas ... are at a health disadvantage," Hansen said.
City officials say the bill could raise costs too much for ice rink owners.
In the meantime, the Minnesota Health Department is looking into the level of carbon monoxide that should be allowed in ice rinks.
Joel Carlson of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, a former legislator from Moorhead, urged lawmakers to allow health officials to proceed with their investigation of air quality before proceeding with Hansen's bill.
Michael Sheggeby, president of an ice rink operator organization, said the bill may be moving too fast, given the fact that so few problems have been reported. If it was a major health concern, he said, more illnesses would appear.
"It needs a lot more work," Sheggeby said.
But Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said the time to act is now.
"We can't wait," Hayden said. "Our kids are in trouble. ... This is a public health emergency."