Getting enough oxygen?


Last week Tulsa again hosted the annual Chili Bowl Midget National races in the Expo Building at Expo Square. (Translation for us old timers: That's the IPE building at the Fairgrounds.) Noisy little "sprint cars" tear around a 1/4-mile track built inside the building. The first race was held in 1987.

As Michael DelGiorno pointed out (during our weekly Monday morning Batesline update on 1170 KFAQ), people commit suicide by going into a garage and starting a car with the doors shut. During cold weather, we're warned by health authorities to open the garage door before starting the car. Going into a building with dozens of running engines is not a recipe for respiratory health, and yet thousands, including the elderly and children file in each night to breathe the fumes.

Thursday night EMSA and the Fire Department came out to investigate elevated CO levels at the event. A spectator brought a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector into the race. CO levels in the stands reached 370 parts per million (ppm). To put that in perspective, here's what the Consumer Product Safety Commission has to say about high concentrations of CO levels.

The health effects of CO depend on the level of CO and length of exposure, as well as each individual's health condition. The concentration of CO is measured in parts per million (ppm). Health effects from exposure to CO levels of approximately 1 to 70 ppm are uncertain, but most people will not experience any symptoms. Some heart patients might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels increase and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable (headache, fatigue, nausea). As CO levels increase above 150 to 200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness, and death are possible.

At about 9 p.m., the hazardous materials (hazmat) team was called to deal with the situation. For some reason, they were turned back. Similarly with the Fire Department. The reason appears to have to do with the fact that Expo Square is not in the city limits, so any health issue would come under the jurisdiction of the Tulsa City-County Health Department. They were called, too. Finally, at about 11 pm, long after the last race and after the doors had been opened to ventilate the building, the authorities arrived and still measured between 70 and 130 ppm.

The County's approach to solving the problem is to open doors and roof panels to ventilate the building. That's fine for the spectators, but it subjects neighbors across the street -- most of whom have lived there since long before the first Chili Bowl race in 1987 -- to dreadful noise and vibration. Noise level in one yard were measured at over 80 db with the Expo Building's doors closed.

Here's a telling quote from Susan Hylton's story in the Whirled:

Expo Square officials met with Chili Bowl promoter Emmett Hahn, County Commissioner Bob Dick, the fire marshal and representatives from the health department and the HAZMAT team Friday morning.

Hahn said he had no idea if the carbon monoxide levels were too high Thursday night and referred questions to Tuttle.

Rouse said the fire department could close down the event, but he thought "everybody was pretty much satisfied with the corrective action that was going to be taken."

Note that no one from the nearby neighborhoods were included in the discussion, despite the impact of the event. If they had included neighbors, I doubt they would have been "pretty much satisfied" with the conclusion. And I doubt most of the spectators are aware of the risk they are taking with their own health. This is just one more example of how the majority of our County Commissioners are more concerned about generating revenue at the Fairgrounds rather than operating it in a responsible way to serve the interests of the public.

By the way, the outdoor races at Fair Meadows by the same promoter were approved by the Fair Board in November 2002, at a time when the surrounding neighborhoods lacked representation on the County Commission. The contract with the promoter required mufflers on the cars and keeping within a specified decibel limit. The limit was exceeded -- sound levels of 82 db were measured nearly 1/2 mile away -- but the County and Expo Square management did nothing to penalize the promoter for breaking his contract.

Expo Square, and the Expo Square building in particular, weren't built for auto racing. They were built for fairs, expositions, and trade shows. Let the Chili Bowl races be held in a facility suited for the purpose, where spectators won't be endangered and neighbors won't be bombarded with noise.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 14, 2004 7:48 AM.

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