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Zamboni fumes close Saskatchewan arena, players vomit on bench

Carbon monoxide pinpointed as culprit after illness mars weekend hockey tourney
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A worker uses a Zamboni to resurface the ice as people wait to skate at the Robson Square ice rink in downtown Vancouver, on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A Saskatchewan town has temporarily closed its hockey arena after carbon monoxide likely from a Zamboni left players sick.

The rink in Wakaw, northeast of Saskatoon, was hosting an under-15 hockey tournament last weekend when players began to get ill.

“Nobody really connected the dots,” said Mayor Mike Markowski.

“People thought it was potentially food poisoning or the flu going around.”

Parents told CKOM News that players were initially getting headaches, but as the tournament progressed, they started to get more ill. Some players vomited while on the bench.

Markowski said the tournament wrapped up Sunday and, by that time, it started to become clear that something bigger was going on. SaskEnergy was called in to investigate and the Crown corporation initially thought a furnace was the carbon monoxide culprit.

The rink was shut down and the furnace was turned off Monday.

To be safe, Markowski said, the community also called in the Saskatchewan Health Authority. The authority did tests that actually traced the carbon monoxide to the arena’s ice resurfacing machine.

The mayor said the rink will remain closed until the Zamboni is repaired. He said they are also making sure furnaces are working properly.

“It just goes to show you, right, how quickly something can happen,” Markowski said.

“It’s a good eye opener for every community that has an arena how things can happen.”

Wakaw’s arena was built in the 1980s and it has carbon monoxide detectors, the mayor said. But they never went off.

The Zamboni also receives maintenance every summer when the hockey season is over, Markowski said.

Markowski said the Wakaw situation shows the importance of being vigilant.

“Fortunately nobody was hospitalized or anything to that extent,” he said.

Nearly 80 people were hospitalized in 2019 due to carbon monoxide exposure during a hockey tournament at a St. John’s, N.L., arena. That leak at the Bussey-Horwood Arena was linked to the rink’s ice cleaning machine.

Ninety-two people went to hospital in Wisconsin due to a carbon monoxide leak during a 2014 hockey tournament. An analysis published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the following year confirmed the carbon monoxide poisoning also came from a faulty ice-resurfacing machine.

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