High ammonia levels at City of Windsor ice rink machinery rooms

Ammonia levels at six machinery rooms in city-run ice rinks exceeded the safe upper limit for short-term exposure.

The Ministry of Labour ordered the city to update its training for employees

City of Windsor staff tested ammonia levels at six municipal ice rinks' machinery rooms and found them to have exceeded safe levels. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Internal investigations by the City of Windsor have found that six city ice rink machinery rooms have ammonia levels higher than 50 ppm, exceeding the safe upper limit for short-term exposure, which is 35 ppm.

These testing results are found in a report to council, which will be presented on May 6.

"Testing results note that in all cases, airborne ammonia levels in the machinery rooms were above legislated worker exposure limits during the chiller oil draining process," the council report said.

The Lanspeary Lions Rink registered at 127 ppm, while the WFCU Main Bowl registered at 200 ppm.

Levels of ammonia that reach 300 ppm pose an immediate risk to a person's life and health. 

An employee who was working inside the machinery room at Charles Clark Square complained to the Ministry of Labour about ammonia exposure while on the job. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

According to Terry Piche, technical director of Ontario Recreation Facilities Association, emptying chiller oil happens anywhere from weekly to monthly, and is usually scheduled to take place when arenas aren't in use.

Ministry investigation

The internal investigation was prompted by field visits from the Ministry of Labour, after the ministry received two complaints with regards to ammonia.

One complaint involved a worker alleging a workplace injury as a result to ammonia exposure at Charles Clark Square, while the second one alleges a broken ammonia sensor at Lanspeary Park.

A ministry field visit report says that at the time of the visit, "training records were produced but not specifically for the task of draining oil from the chiller." The city was then ordered to ensure all workers are properly trained on safety procedures.

In a second report, the ministry asked the city to make sure that the refrigeration room sensors are working properly.

In an email to CBC News, CIMCO, the company that inspects and maintains refrigeration equipment for the City of Windsor, said the leak detector for the sensor at Lanspeary Park had been replaced.

Infrastructure built in a different time

According to Piche, the City of Windsor is not the only municipality that deals with issues like this. Some pieces of equipment and infrastructure were built to different standards, he said.

Terry Piche says draining the chiller oil is typically done when arenas are empty. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

"Often what happens in these mechanical rooms is the ventilation system, when compared to today's standards, they're probably considered to be substandard," said Piche.

What Windsor is doing goes "above and beyond" in conducting its own investigation to look at city rinks aside from the two mentioned in the complaints, Piche said.

CBC News has reached out to the Ministry of Labour to find out what sort of regular reporting system exists to monitor the safety of municipalities' ice rinks. A response is expected Wednesday.

The City of Windsor also told CBC News a staff member will be available for comment on Wednesday.

Piche said like other municipalities, Windsor is working to catch up with aging infrastructure and changing standards.

"It's a large task. It can be tackled, but with anything else, it's a money situation," he said.

With files from Chris Ensing


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