Aquatics: The Air in There
Greensboro Aquatic Center in Greensboro, N.C.
Back in 2012 the Greensboro Aquatic Center in North Carolina began experiencing issues with air quality in its nearly 80,000-square-foot facility—especially during swim meets.
"We hosted the YMCA Nationals in April 2012. So, that was the first time we recognized that we had a problem. The problem was when we had a meet of that magnitude, had that many swimmers for that many days and that many hours each day. With the YMCA, there are easily 1,800 swimmers, several hundred coaches [and] a couple of thousand spectators, with a full day of warm-ups. It's a five-day event," said Susan Braman, manager of the Greensboro Aquatic Center (GAC), which officially opened in September 2011.
Following one of the meets, a problem was detected with the aquatic center's dampers, located on the roof, that adjust the amount of fresh air that goes in and out of the facility.
"We thought that was the problem at the Y meet. Then, we did another event, a junior national event, which had the same type of problem," Braman said.
Everything was working fine on the fresh air return. But a more significant problem was found. It was at that point that Paddock Evacuator, a division of Paddock Pool Equipment Company in Rock Hill, S.C., was hired to work with the aquatic center's HVAC engineers to fix the problem.
Air quality problems at the Greensboro Aquatic Center were being caused by heavy usage of the pools and agitation of the water and chloramines that create off-gases. Physical reactions ranged from mild to severe, with some swimmers experiencing a sore throat, itchy eyes and even skin rashes.
Mark Weber, project manager at Paddock Evacuator, said air quality is a huge problem at many indoor aquatic facilities across the country.
"That problem is a big reason why I, personally, became involved with the Evacuator. I grew up swimming in a bubble type pool (temporary covering for winter months on an outdoor pool) and constantly struggled with breathing issues as a result of the poor air quality," he said. "Coughing, hacking, burning eyes and skin rashes were a common occurrence, and I hated swimming indoors."
To fix those problems in Greensboro, significant changes were made in February 2014. Braman said $186,000 was spent between Paddock and the HVAC company, both to cover the engineering that was needed, plus two Bench Evacuators from Paddock, a solution designed for economical retrofits.
"What we did really helped a lot, but when we got back to the 2014 YMCA meet, and we had those two [benches] in place … by the last day it was still not good," Braman said.
"What we were finding," Braman added, "is … that the diving well, the big warm-up pool, still had significant amounts of chloramines at the surface level" due, in part, to swimmers jumping in dirty, urinating and sweating. The diving well was the furthest pool away from the source capture Evacuator.
So, work began on the deck at the diving well and was cut back three feet. Behind that an Evacuator was installed. It was retiled and new concrete was put down, which eliminated all of the problems.
Greensboro Aquatic Center now has three Evacuator systems: "one gutter Evacuator System on the diving well; one bench Evacuator system on the competition pool; and one bench Evacuator system on the warm water pool," Weber said.
Braman noted that the problems before that, in bringing in more fresh air to the building, involved the air getting mixed back in with the return and supply air.
"The Evacuator is down at the surface level; [so] venting it out is significant," she said, adding that by the end, more than $325,000 had been invested to remedy the problem.
Weber explained that the "Evacuator is a patented source capture system designed to remove harmful disinfection byproducts (DBPs) from indoor natatoriums."
He added, "What that really means is our system is designed to catch all the smell, nasty, corrosive air particles that off-gas from swimming pools, and exhaust them outside of the facility before they have an opportunity to create breathing issues for patrons and staff or cause accelerated corrosion to equipment and the facility.
"That chlorine 'pool smell' when you walk into an indoor swimming pool is actually off-gassing by products from the disinfection process of chemicals and organics in the water," he added. "Off-gassing is a good thing because it means the chemicals are doing their job, but those contaminants have been shown to have negative health side effects."
Weber noted that the Greensboro Aquatic Center project involved much more than just installing an Evacuator.
"Greensboro needed a full redesign of the HVAC supply pattern to provide an adequate surface air flow to the Evacuator systems. This complicated the project (but is not unusual for retrofit systems)," he said.
"However, the results were fantastic. The project took about eight weeks for the first phase (the competition and warm water pools) and about eight weeks for the second phase (addition of a gutter Evacuator system below the deck on the diving well)," he said. "The second phase was completed two years after the first. Throughout the process, the aquatic center was able to keep their pools open to the public."
In terms of feedback on the improved air quality, a lot of it has been positive.
Swimming coaches have told Braman that the Evacuator has made a huge difference. "We got a lot of positive feedback," she said, adding that coaches have praised the improvement, even saying that Greensboro Aquatic center now has the fastest pool in the country.
As new aquatic facilities are built, Weber said more are opting to have the Evacuator built in from the beginning.
"This is already happening, and is actually much more common than retrofitting the systems," he said.
"There are over 150 facilities around the country that were built with Evacuator systems from day one," he said. "This is a huge advantage because it allows source capture to occur in the gutter of the pool (as close to the surface as possible) and comes at a significant cost savings in relation to a retrofit system."
Paddock first pitched its product to Greensboro Aquatic Center back in 2010 when the company was selected to build the pool. However, Braman said the product wasn't well vetted in terms of other facilities. "We had an HVAC company that had done a lot of work for our facility, and wanted to stick with them," she said.
But now, the company is building a fourth pool for Greensboro and will build the Evacuator in, which will work in tandem with GAC's HVAC air handling system.
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