TALLAHASSEE — Two years ago, a team of East Lake High School hockey players fell ill during practice. They left the ice at Tampa Bay Skating Academy nauseated, dizzy and short of breath. Two went to the hospital.
The culprit turned out to be a gasoline-powered ice edger that released higher concentrations of toxic fumes, possibly nitrogen dioxide or carbon dioxide, into the rink. The tale of the old Zamboni's wrath spawned newspaper headlines and became the spotlight of an April 2009 ESPN investigation about the risks of skating in rinks groomed by poorly maintained ice edgers.
Under current law, health departments are not allowed to enter enclosed ice-skating rinks and test the air quality.
But these machines can release harmful gases into rinks, including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, the effect of which is worsened by poor ventilation, warns the Environmental Protection Agency.
A new bill before the Legislature would allow inspections.
Introduced by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, SB 202 would grant local health departments authority to inspect air quality at enclosed rinks and assess penalties of up to $500. Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs, is sponsoring a companion bill in the House.
In 2009, Fasano said, "We simply asked the Department of Health, 'Why don't you go in there and inspect?' and they said they did not have the authority to do that."
Fasano's bill would not require health departments to inspect rinks but would give them the ability, he said.
All but one of the senators hearing the bill Tuesday in a Senate committee agreed it made sense, even amid a political climate wary of regulations. Sen. Jim Norman, R-Tampa, said no. Norman worried it could affect large private entities like the St. Pete Times Forum: "Our mission is to have less government. I don't want to have more government."
Fasano said he did not envision the bill being an issue for large arenas like the Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He suspects the arena tests its ice frequently. "You know me, I'm a hockey fan," he said, "so I'm at the games as many times as possible. I don't go away (from) there feeling numb or faint."
Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, owns an ice-skating rink in Ellenton. He jumped to the bill's defense, saying air-quality tests are inexpensive and rink owners wouldn't mind inspections after the Oldsmar incident. "As an owner of an ice skating rink, I would be supportive of this bill," he said.
Katie Sanders can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.