Supplement Feature - February 2018
Find a printable version here

Healthy Air, Healthy Water

Best Practices to Keep Patrons & Staff Healthy

By Rick Dandes

There is no more critical issue to municipal or private pool owners than the safety of their swimmers and staff. Failure to maintain safe water and air quality can lead to health issues and a poor user experience. Swimmers not only won't come back—they might also let others know not to go to your facility. Such a situation "would create an economic impact, as well as a reputation impact, which would be hard to overcome," said Peter Beireis, senior recreation supervisor, City of Newark, Calif.

The key to ensuring good air and water quality is reducing contaminants in the water, he said.

Characteristic of most indoor pool areas is that "pool smell," which is due, not to chlorine, as most people think, but to chloramines. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chloramines form when the chlorine used in pools to kill germs binds with the body waste that swimmers bring into pools, such as sweat and urine. Chloramines in the water can irritate skin, eyes and the respiratory tract as they off-gas into the air, particularly indoors. They also can contribute to corrosion of metals around the pool and in the facility's air handling systems.

"Please note that just about all indoor facilities will have chloramines and somewhat of a smell," Beireis said. "It is an ongoing issue, a dilemma, as you are fighting chloramines from the incoming water source, and then once your bathers enter they are creating more from the contaminants, such as sweat, that they bring into the water. Your chlorine is working hard to deal with it, but the end result is the chloramines."

Diligent monitoring of your water chemistry, therefore, is imperative, Beireis said. "If you stay on top of things, you will notice what is happening with your chloramines. Then you can super-chlorinate the water to break the chemical bond of the offensive nitrates."

Although prevention is the best option, added Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO, National Swimming Pool Foundation & Genesis, of Colorado Springs, Colo., the public pool world is moving to other techniques to improve water quality. Disinfection and filtration have been used for a century. Most new facilities are also using supplementary disinfectant like UV or ozone.

"For indoor pools," Lachocki said, "advances in air handling are an important way to remove volatile contaminants from the pool environment. For smaller—high-risk—bodies of water, controllers and automatic feeders are a must."

Best Practices: Water Balance

To maintain healthy water for swimmers, the number one concern is always going to be proper balance of the water, according to Terry Arko, water specialist with a Norwalk, Conn.-based chemical manufacturing company that specializes in swimming pool and spa care. "Balance can depend on regional situations, primarily when getting water into the pool itself," he added. "Source water plays a big part there because in some areas of the country you have very soft water, which can lead to corrosion, while in other locations you have hard water, calcium-rich, which can lead to scaling of equipment." This scaling leads to higher energy, operating and maintenance costs.

Pool operators know there are standards that define proper pH balance, calcium hardness and more. "Water balance is the top concern overall." Arko said. "Then there is the proper use of sanitizers. One thing that can happen, particularly in busy municipal facilities, is that operators will tend to go high on their chlorine to deal with higher bather/swimmer loads, which can lead to more chloramines. Proper sanitation, understanding the proper levels, maintaining proper levels, is really important."

A sometimes-overlooked aspect of maintaining water quality is understanding the proper swimmer limits in the pool, Arko noted. "Pools can get overwhelmed because operators allow too many people in the water at one time," he said. "That's a tough one to deal with, but understanding how many bodies a pool can accommodate before it becomes overwhelmed is important. Code standards vary, depending on your state's health department, but the basic standard is to allow 20 square feet of pool surface per bather. What that means is, for example, if you have a 30-by-50-foot pool, that is 1,500 square feet of surface area. Divide that by 20. So, in a 30-by-50-foot pool, your maximum bather load is 75 people."

"The biggest thing I've noticed," said John Watt, product development specialist, with a Minneapolis-based company specializing in water quality and management systems, "is that many facilities are not managed properly. A service company comes in a few times a week as opposed to making daily or hourly checks. We are seeing where the pH goes up because no one checks the level for two or three days, so it is difficult to stabilize the pool. The best practice in keeping water quality up is consistent checks on the water chemistry itself based on water temperature and location of the pool."

Record-keeping is important, Watt said. "The only way to build consistency is to keep a record of what is added to the pool. Do a complete chemistry check—not just pH and chlorine levels."

Operators would also be well advised to put together a preventive maintenance plan in place for all equipment and stick to it, added Brian Bokowy, business manager, of a Gainesville, Fla.-based supplier of bulk chemicals for the swimming pool industry. "Schedule maintenance at a time to minimize the impact on your patrons and budget accordingly for it annually," he added. "Thoroughly understand what tasks your staff is capable of performing themselves and when you need to rely upon a service company or contractor. Pay particular attention to the filtration and circulation components of the system like the pumps and filters. These components are the fundamental building blocks that everything else relies upon."