OLDSMAR — The air at the Tampa Bay Skating Academy may be dangerous to those exposed to it over a long period of time, according to a report to air on ESPN tonight.
The network's investigation found high levels of ultrafine pollution particles that settle deeply into lungs. The particles, with a diameter of less than one-seventieth of the diameter of the average human hair, take their toll gradually.
"It's dangerous if you are continually exposed over time; you run the risk of developing asthma," said Kenneth Rundell, director of respiratory research in the Human Physiology Laboratory at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa.
The ESPN crew found 99,200 ultrafine particles per cubic centimeter of air when they tested the air in March at the Oldsmar rink. The particles should be kept well below 60,000 per cubic centimeter in ice rinks based on his research, said Rundell, who has a doctorate in exercise physiology and served on an air quality panel for the Beijing Olympics.
"Above 60,000 is really not good," he said, but lower readings may be hazardous, too.
Nick Flaskay, owner of the rink, laughed off the concept of ultrafine particles.
"Which nobody's ever heard of," he said Friday. "What's an ultrafine particle?"
When ESPN visited, none of the skaters were showing any symptoms, he said.
"I've owned six arenas and I've had millions of users," he said Friday. "And they have all been fine."
The particles that are the focus of ESPN's report are a long-term danger, according to Rundell.
The health effects may not be evident for years, but could include asthma in susceptible individuals.
"It's much worse for kids because their lungs are still developing," he said.
The small particles may also enter the bloodstream and damage the cardiovascular system.
"It disrupts the ability of your blood vessels to dilate," he said. "And it's important to be able to do that, especially when you are exercising."
While outdoor air quality is regulated through the federal Clean Air Act, neither the federal nor state governments regulate indoor air quality. There are no federal or state standards for indoor air pollution, so the best environmental and health agencies can do is offer information and recommendations.
The crew of the station's newsmagazine E:60 tested indoor air quality at 34 ice skating rinks in 14 states across the nation, including the Tampa Bay Skating Academy.
In January, 21 out of 24 East Lake hockey team members got sick after practice with complaints that ranged from nausea to breathing problems. Two were coughing up blood.
As part of a wider investigation, after a Times story about the incident in January, ESPN tested the air at the rink in March. It was the only rink tested in Florida. Here's what they found:
"One of the highest levels of ultrafine particles in any of the rinks we tested," said reporter Rachel Nichols.
Nichols said the crew tested for three problems common in indoor rinks that use internal combustion ice-resurfacing machines powered by fossil fuels. Old or poorly maintained machines can release dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and ultrafine particles.
On the day they tested in Oldsmar, the crew found levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide that were safe, Nichols said. But the levels of ultrafine particles were high.
Flaskay said all three of his ice-resurfacing machines run on propane and have catalytic converters. He said the rink tests the air regularly for carbon dioxide as well as nitrogen dioxide, but would provide no further details on when or what records they keep.
Flaskay said he can't remember an incident besides the one in January where hockey players got sick.
But in 2001, a child was hospitalized with carbon dioxide poisoning after a game, according to his father, Gregory Pickren, and much of the rest of the hockey team got sick.
Kathleen Brockman of Clearwater said the team usually goes outside between games, but that day the players stayed in between games for a Christmas party.
Before long, Brockman had a headache and most of the kids, including her two boys and baby daughter, were throwing up. The parents thought it must have been food poisoning until they heard that Ryan Pickren had been diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning and admitted to a hospital.
"We're just grateful that nothing fatal happened," she said last week.
After that, she carried a carbon monoxide detector to all the boys' games. And they went outside between games. She was upset to hear a team got sick again in January.
"How the heck can it happen again?" Brockman said. "It's because nobody is regulating it."
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4170.