Officials look into carbon monoxide poisoning incident at Fryberger ArenaThe Minnesota Department of Health, Duluth Fire Marshal’s office and Duluth Water and Gas Department inspected Fryberger Arena on Thursday trying to find the source of carbon monoxide that sickened players, coaches and the Zamboni driver Wednesday night.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
The Minnesota Department of Health, Duluth Fire Marshal’s office and Duluth Water and Gas Department inspected Fryberger Arena on Thursday trying to find the source of carbon monoxide that sickened players, coaches and the Zamboni driver Wednesday night.
About 30 people watching or participating in a youth hockey practice were ordered out of the arena just after 8 p.m. Wednesday. At least eight people, including players, received oxygen to help treat high levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, though officials Thursday said they understood everyone had recovered.
Arena Manager Gordy Atol said Thursday afternoon that air in the building had returned to safe carbon monoxide levels. It wasn’t clear how soon the arena would be approved for teams to skate just as preseason hockey practices kick into high gear.
It’s also not yet clear what caused the carbon monoxide levels to increase to dangerous levels. The colorless, odorless gas is produced during combustion of fuels, such as in the propane engine that runs the ice resurfacing vehicle or the arena’s gas furnace or gas water heater.
Usually that gas is vented out of the building and harmlessly released outside. For some reason, that didn’t happen Wednesday at the 1972-era arena in Duluth’s Woodland neighborhood.
“It’s usually a combination of the combustion source, the resurfacer or other equipment that is malfunctioning, and the ventilation system not keeping up,” said Dan Tranter, supervisor of the indoor air unit of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Mechanics were working on the Fryberger Zamboni outside the arena Thursday but told a News Tribune photographer they were conducting routine maintenance. Meanwhile, Tranter said a department official was expected to visit the Duluth arena Thursday and would verify that carbon monoxide levels had returned to safe levels before approving the building to be re-opened.
It was the first major arena incident in which people were sick enough to require medical attention since a 2009 incident in Morris, Minn., Tranter said. The Morris incident, coupled with others in Osseo and Woodbury, spurred Minnesota lawmakers to introduce legislation on arena air quality. But that legislation failed, so 1977 Minnesota statutes still regulate arena air.
The Minnesota Department of Health is updating those rules, however, including reducing acceptable carbon monoxide levels from 30 parts per million to 20 ppm and forcing arena evacuations at 85 ppm rather than 125 ppm.
The federal workplace standard is 50 parts per million.
Dane Youngbloom, an assistant Duluth fire chief, said a parent first noticed that several people seemed to be getting sick. That person called a friend in the city Fire Marshal’s office, who dispatched a fire engine to the site.
Each Duluth fire truck carries a carbon monoxide detector, and firefighters found carbon monoxide levels in the arena air as high as 285 parts per million.
“Our detectors are set to warn us if there is anything above that workplace standard,” Youngbloom said. “You can start seeing headaches at 200 parts per million for people who are exposed for a couple hours. At 300, you can start to see nausea and other problems, depending on how long the exposure is.”
The Fire Department also has three devices that can measure carbon monoxide in people’s bloodstreams. At least a couple of victims at Fryberger had levels as high as 20 percent, “and that’s enough so you should at least get some oxygen therapy if not go to the hospital,” Youngbloom said. Blood gas levels of 50 percent carbon monoxide can be fatal.
At least one person was taken from the arena to a local hospital Wednesday night for treatment, according to the Duluth Fire Department, and another was transported to the hospital from home.
Minnesota requires weekly testing of arena air, but there is no requirement for a continuously monitoring carbon monoxide detector in the arena, Youngbloom noted.
“I play hockey myself and you’d think, with all the history with arena air quality, a monitor would be a requirement,” Youngbloom said.
But the state’s Tranter said there is no reliable technology available to monitor carbon monoxide near the ice level where it tends to build up in arenas.
“We encourage arenas to install (continuous) monitors, but they tend not to be that accurate and are very expensive. … The technology isn’t quite there yet for us to try to put them into the new rules,” he said.
Fryberger Arena is owned by the city and is managed and operated by the Duluth Amateur Hockey Association.