Arena air quality concerns — 'like running your car in your garage and playing a hockey game'

The arena in Kirkland Lake was shut down over the weekend due to high levels of carbon monoxide, but an expert in arena maintenance says this is problem facing most rinks.

Unlike homes, arenas in Ontario are not required to have carbon monoxide detectors

Arena operations expert Terry Piche says many rinks in the province have air quality problems related to poor maintenance of equipment and ventilation systems. (Erik White/CBC )

The arena in Kirkland Lake is the latest northern Ontario rink to be shut down due to high levels of carbon monoxide.

It was closed over the weekend, seeing the cancellations of two junior hockey games.

The Town of Kirkland Lake says extensive testing has been done by the fire department, the health unit and an independent company. It says readings fell within the acceptable standards, but adds additional testing will continue. In the meantime, no vehicles will be allowed to idle near air intake valves and increased air flow during ice maintenance will be done by keeping doors open.

Last year, 76 people were treated for carbon monoxide exposure at an arena in Sault Ste. Marie. And last month, the arena in Wawa was closed for a few days due to air quality problems.

But air quality problems in arenas is not isolated to a few rinks.

"The ventilation systems inside rec centres are often inadequate," says Terry Piche, who used to operate the arena in Chapleau, but now he trains arena operators across Ontario as the technical director of  the Ontario Recreational Facilities Association.

"I hate to say this, but our children are the canaries in the coal mine. They're usually the ones that fall over first in the rinks."

Ice resurfacing equipment running on propane or natural gas is often the source of carbon monoxide in arenas. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

He says bad arena air is a province-wide problem because of poorly maintained resurfacing equipment that runs on propane and natural gas, as well aging ventilation systems in arenas built when Wintario lottery funding was flowing freely to small towns in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

"Kind of like running your car in your garage and playing a hockey game," Piche says.

He says many will be surprised to learn that unlike homes in Ontario, arenas aren't required to have carbon monoxide detectors.

Such a system would be very expensive, but Piche says his group has called for every recreational facility to at least have its own testing equipment on hand in case a problem comes up.