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Carbon Monoxide Reaches ‘Potential Hazard’ Levels in Tractor Pulls

October 18, 1990

ATLANTA (AP) _ Tractor pulls, those rev-’em-up spectacles where giant machines test metal and mettle in hauling competitions, can produce potentially hazardous levels of carbon monoxide, U.S. health officials warned Thursday.

Carbon monoxide levels at two tractor pulls in 1988 in Canada ″represented a potential health hazard to both participants and observers,″ the Centers for Disease Control said.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas in exhaust and smoke that can cause headache, dizziness, cardiac problems and death.

Health officials urged officials of the Winnipeg, Manitoba, arena not to allow future tractor pulls. The management of Winnipeg Arena agreed, said Rod Thiessen, the arena’s director of operations. ″They’ve never come back and made them safe enough.″

Federal health officials aren’t sure whether the problem is peculiar to the Winnipeg arena.

″I wish I knew,″ said Dr. Ruth Etzel, a researcher with the Environmental Health Center of the Atlanta-based CDC. ″We would certainly like to see some data so we would know if this is a problem.

″We were quite surprised at the levels of carbon monoxide that can build up in these things.″

The hazard at the Winnipeg arena prompted cancellation of a February 1989 tractor pull and no future pulls will be held there, the CDC said.

Tractor pulls typically feature a dozen or so truck rigs outfitted with super-powerful engines made of anything from supercharged car engines to aircraft turbines. The tractor drivers are professionals who compete by pulling 50-ton sleds across a dirt floor. A 2 1/2 -hour event can feature 25 competitive pulls.

In a February 1988 pull at Winnipeg, health inspectors measured airborne carbon monoxide levels averaging 62 parts per million at the start, or nearly twice the Winnipeg Health Department’s recommended indoor guideline of 33 parts per million in one hour. By the event’s end, the level had risen to 262 parts per million.

During a November 1988 pull at the arena, roof louvers were opened, the duration of the event was extended and one fewer pull was run. Even then, carbon monoxide levels rose more than five times, from 78 parts per million to 436 parts per million.

″The control measures were not effective,″ the CDC said.

Adverse effects have been reported in people breathing a constant 15 parts per million, the CDC said.

Health officials reported no incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning during either Winnipeg event, although members of the ambulance crew reported severe headaches, Etzel said.

Louisville, Ky.-based TNT calls itself the world’s largest promotor of indoor motor sports, attracting 2.5 million fans a year. It has never had problems like those cited at the Winnipeg arena, TNT spokesman Mike Weber said from his office in Lombard, Ill.

TNT was not involved in the Winnipeg events.

″We present motor sports events in all the major arenas across the country and we take every precaution. We do constantly monitor our emitted fumes. ... It’s worked very well for us,″ Weber said.

Weber is also director of public relations for the United States Hot Rod Association. The organization sanctions TNT events.

Weber said some giant trucks that might perform in outdoor stadium shows shouldn’t be run indoors. ″There are so many different classifications of vehicles ... some are appropriate for indoors, and there are some which are not,″ he said.

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