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Hazardous gas strikes hockey rink.

Hazardous gas strikes hockey rink

Flying pucks are not the only potential hazards of indoor ice hockey. A research team has found that many players and fans suffered acute respiratory illness during or soon after two high school ice hockey games played at the same indoor rink. The culprit: too much nitrogen dioxide in the air due to a malfunctioning ice resurfacer.

A high school coach alerted state public health officials after players and spectators complained of respiratory distress following two games played in February 1987 at an ice arena in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. Researchers led by Katrina Hedberg of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and Kristine L. MacDonald of the Minnesota Department of Health in Minneapolis investigated the case, interviewing 167 players, cheerleaders and band members who attended the games in question. They found 116 cases of respiratory illness that resembled the health problems seen in people exposed to nitrogen dioxide, a respiratory irritant sometimes emitted by out-of-tune engines such as those that power ice resurfacers.

Students interviewed by the research team said they had trouble driving home after the game due to severe coughing and chest pain. Most symptoms disappeared after several days, Hedberg and her co-workers report in the Dec. 1 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION.

Arena mechanics told investigators the resurfacer had been malfunctioning for six months prior to the outbreak. Workers did not measure nitrogen dioxide levels during the games in question. However, measurements taken two days after the second game revealed a nitrogen dioxide level eight times higher than that considered safe by Minnesota health officials.

The investigators say they believe students were exposed to enough nitrogen dioxide to produce acute symptoms but not enough to permanently damage their lungs. Two months after the games, the scientists tested pulmonary function in 59 of the players and compared the results with those of a control group of 24 healthy high school basketball players. They found no overall difference in lung function.

Although few such outbreaks have been reported in the past, Hedberg says the problem may be larger than previously suspected -- especially in states that do not require ice arena operators to periodically measure air quality. Minnesota is one of three states with such a requirement.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 16, 1989
Words:377
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