Technical Corner

Ice Resurfacer Indoor Air Quality Rests With Facility Management

November 13, 2023

As the recreation facilities industry transitions to a higher ratio of electrically driven ice resurfacing equipment, there will naturally leave behind a current stock of equipment that continues to service our sector. As I sometimes gaze into the future, I wonder if one-day all Canadian ice rinks will eventually be electric vehicle (EV) driven ice maintenance equipment? I suggest the answer is maybe but given that manufacturers share they are still seeing 1960’s vintage units in the field, it could be a way off, unless government legislation forces fossil fuels out of arenas or manufacturers decide that they will no longer make fossil fuelled equipment. And with that scenario, as long as there are fossil fuels being burnt in recreation facilities the risk of poor indoor air quality will exist.

The relationship between facility management and equipment manufacture must be driven by the facility manager. Ever since ice rink poisonings due to high levels of carbon monoxide first hit the news back in the 1970’s, the manufacturers of ice resurfacers have been tagged as the root cause of the issue. Their brand has taken a lot of abuse for this issue. Not withstanding that in those early years manufacturers may have held a small amount of responsibility as equipment, technology, and awareness of the contributing factors to poor indoor air quality (IAQ) was not widely known. There was no doubt in the early part of IAQ risk and hazard awareness that there was room for improvement in ice resurfacer design and emission reduction strategies – and during my time as an operator, manager, and director those same manufacturers invested heavily in these kinds of improvements. However, facility investment in staff training and IAQ operational reduction principles did not keep pace. The recommended best practices identified by the ORFA in the Guidelines For Indoor Air Quality In Arenas resource have been well established and regularly updated to provide ice rink staff, at all levels of operations, with the necessary information to proactively reduce the potential of a poor rink IAQ situation. Sadly, however they still occur!

Today, manufacturers remain diligent in their commitment to provide the safest and most efficient equipment possible. They continue to lean on Power Solutions International (PSI) engine designs that are considered the most advanced, emission-certified engines and power systems in the energy, industrial and transportation markets. For North America, all PSI mobile industrial engines meet Environmental Protection Act (EP) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) emissions standards. Canadian emission standards are aligned and interchangeable with U.S. standards. European (Euro V) standards are very similar if not slightly more complicated. The EPA and CARB standards apply to gasoline, propane, and natural gas emissions. There have been no changes to these emissive standards for these fuels since 2010.

One of the most significant improvements by the manufacturers to reduce the chances of poor indoor air quality has been the addition of catalytic converters to the emission system. A catalytic converter reduces the number of pollutants and transform them into less toxic gases such as water vapour and carbon dioxide. Inside the catalytic converter are two ceramic honeycomb pieces: a reduction catalyst and an oxidation catalyst. Both are coated with precious metals. Hot exhaust from the engine enters through one side of the catalytic converter and is exposed to the catalysts. This exposure causes a chemical reaction that breaks down the exhaust's pollutants into less harmful gases. These gases then exit through the other end and out of the vehicle's tailpipe. A catalytic converter should last the life of the engine, but its lifespan will depend on what issues might come up during ownership. This requires regular inspection and testing.

Certified engines arrive complete with emission controls, catalytic converter, and engine control monitors. Every machine leaving the production line is tested in the factory with a 5-gas analyzer and to ensure tailpipe emissions are within specification. Larger operations with fleet departments will test their emissions on an annual basis or have a manufacturer recommended company test and tune up machines.

Manufacturers point out that their data suggests that ice rink air quality problems tend to be with private rinks and smaller municipalities with older machines that do not test and have not followed recommended maintenance and equipment component asset replacement management. The engines used today are very clean burning and efficient. How they perform post sale and delivery is the responsibility of facility management. It is therefore recommended that these responsibilities to the recreation facilities asset management toolbox.

For awareness, the ORFA is partner in a collaboration with public health to develop a Practical Guide for the Public Health Inspection of Ontario Ice Arenas. With a goal to advocate for a consistent approach across Ontario Public Health Units in assessing, inspecting, the operation of indoor ice arenas. Using the same experiences and resources that are provided as a benefit of membership within the ORFA.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training, Research and Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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