TODAY | February 10, 2011
>>> on "today investigates," a hidden danger at indoor ice rinks. good morning to you, jeff.
>> good morning, meredith. this is timely, right in the middle of winter. this affects hundreds of thousands of kid whose play ice hockey and, of course, the rest of us who skate for fun. the danger is in the air at these rinks. toxic fumes you can't see, smell or taste. and it's literally making children sick.
>> get back! got to get back! get back!
>> reporter: at first it was a mystery. what was powerful enough to send this 14-year-old boy to the hospital? and this former star into retirement? on a respirator.
>> i thought i was going to die.
>> i was really scared.
>> reporter: for kyler fisher, it happened at a recent game in minnesota. with every breath, he was being poisoned by carbon monoxide in the rink.
>> it got pretty bad, to where i felt like i was going to pass out in the locker room . i was laying down. i couldn't get up.
>> reporter: kyler's parents rushed him to the emergency room . you're sitting in the hospital, your son is getting oxygen. what are you thinking to yourself?
>> it was very scary. i just didn't know the long-term effects of it and what was going on. you think your kids are safe in a rink and he wasn't.
>> reporter: turns out kyler's entire team was sick and this was no isolateddenver, a carbon monoxide leak sent 61 people to the hospital. more than 250 people have been poisoned at indoor ice rinks in the last two years. the culprit? those smoke-belching resurfacing machines, run over and over again to clean the ice. their exhaust fumes contain poisons like carbon monoxide and ultra- fine particles . fumes that can become trapped inside the rink.
>> they're very, very tight structures. there's no heating systems. there's very little ventilation. whatever toxic materials are in the ice rinks stay there.
>> reporter: think of it this way. you'd never stand in your garage at home with the car turned on and the door closed. but experts say at your local ice rink , the air could be just as dangerous. so nbc news set up a scientific experiment to find out how dangerous ice rinks can be. we hired certified industrial hygienists to test the air at the revolution ice center in pennsylvania. your typical neighborhood rink. for our test, we used their fuel-powered resurfacer, the kind used at most rinks nationwide. we had them run it for a single sweep around the ice. along with this machine, the ice edger, also commonly used at skating rinks.
>> let's put the meters at a child's breathing zone.
>> reporter: meters were set up over the ice and they walked around with hand-held monitors, testing for those toxic pollutants. studies show over time , they can cause permanent heart, lung, even drain damage. just five minutes into our test, our air quality alarms went off. the carbon monoxide , already over the safe limit according to state guidelines.
>> the levels of 20 parts per million . you can see we're up to about 60 right now.
>> reporter: and when we measured for ultra- fine particles , even our expert was surprised.
>> we start seeing adverse health effects at 100,000 particles. right now we're at 209,000 particles.
>> reporter: we turned the machines off. incredibly, an hour later t was still so dangerous, our expert had to pull the drug.
>> jeff, we'll have to call off the test and go outside and ventilate.
>> the levels are too high.
>> the levels are too high right now. we've hit the evacuation level.
>> reporter: believe it or not, there are no laws requiring carbon monoxide detectors in rinks, so kids can be inhaling these fumes and not even know about it.
>> think about the amount of time we're on the ice practicing. we're here three, four nights a week.
>> reporter: it's the damage you can't see that can ruin your child's life later.
>> it started small and then it progressed into completely debilitating me.
>> reporter: linda davis has been skating since she was 6, a former ice capades star. recently, her body began to fall apart, diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning . today this beautiful athlete needs a respirator.
>> i have problems with my lungs. i have problems with my memory still. i have problems with nur lodge neurological issues.
>> reporter: there are parents say, i've never had a problem. why should i be worried?
>> because you don't know. you don't know what your child has been exposed to.
>> reporter: right now only three states regulate air quality in ice rinks. minnesota, massachusetts, and rhode island . leaving most of the country unprotected. while the epa has an alert about this on its website, the federal government still hasn't created a law requiring clean air in rinks.
>> in our homes we have to have carbon monoxide detectors but not in a rink where our children are.
>> reporter: does that make any sense?
>> no. makes no sense at all.
>> reporter: we wanted to question the epa , but the agency declined to go on camera. so we called these four members of congress, all at the helm of clean air committees. once again, we were turned down, all of them told us they're unavailable for interviews.
>> are they waiting for something very tragic to happen? because as far as i'm concerned, my kids going to the hospital is already tragic enough.
>> there is an easy solution here. electric ice resurfacers, no exhaust at all. some rinks like revolution ice center in pennsylvania, use them exclusively. the problem is they cost twice as much as the fuel-powered resurfacers. the epa and the rink association told us they're educating rink owners and hope new rules for ice machines will cut emissions in half, but many say that's just not enough, meredith. in most states to this day, no one is following up on that. no one is testing the air. that's the real problem.
>> yeah. from the guys who test it, you have to leave because the levels get so high. what to parents and kids do who hit the ice rinks today?
>> that probably scared a lot of people. what you should do is go to the rink, ask the rink owner what kind of resurfacer do you use? electric or fuel-powered? if they use fuel-powered, they say you should ask do you have carbon monoxide detectors here. if they don't, then if your child is feeling dizzy or lazy, don't just blow it off. that could be carbon monoxide poisoning , especially when they're at the rink