As of Jan. 1, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) put a stop to the production or importation of the refrigerant R-22, a chemical more commonly known by the registered trademark Freon. And that could put a deep freeze on thousands of community ice rinks throughout North America.
Once a ubiquitous, inexpensive refrigerant, Freon also depletes the ozone layer, EPA officials say. Since 2010, production and importation of the chemical has been limited. After Jan. 1, 2020, “the servicing of systems with R-22 will rely on recycled or stockpiled quantities,” according to an EPA document.
Some estimates says the ban may affect as many as 2,500 ice rinks in the United States and 1,900 in Canada.
In Minnesota, approximately 120 rinks are affected, according to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and most are operated by municipal governments.
“Not every EPA employee may be thinking about ice rinks,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota and a candidate for president, told the Star Tribune, adding that she has urged EPA officials to announce when Freon will be taken off the market. “I think they have to treat it with a sense of urgency. They may not realize how much it would mean for an ice rink in a local community to have to sink a million dollars in without much notice.”
Rinks that rely on R-22 likely will switch over to ammonia-based chilling systems — a financial commitment that jeopardizes the East Side Youth Sports Foundation in Detroit, which will need to come up with an extra $300,000 to comply with the new EPA rule. The foundation acquired an old ice rink in 2015 and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace the roof, overhaul the lobby and make other improvements.
“We purchased the rink by forming a charity, but we’re able to take every dollar that we raise … and put it back into the facility and back into the kids’ programs,” the foundation’s Brian Francis told Detroit’s Fox 2. Since 2017, the foundation has awarded $110,000 in hockey scholarships, he said.
Taft Coliseum at the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus, Ohio — which annually converts its arena into an ice rink between November and February — will undergo a $5.4 million upgrade to replace its Freon-based system. Also included will be other updates, including LED lights in the arena area.
“It’s really something that needs to be done because the ice rink is used on a very regular basis for a third of the year,” Alicia Shoults, spokeswoman for the Expo Center, told The Columbus Dispatch.