I remember growing up as a swim team kid in the ’60s and ’70s. Life seemed a little more simple back then. During public swim time, I’d turn my basket in with my clothes, grab a numbered pin and then was made to shower before entering the pool. Some pools I visited had foot baths, which would take care of any fungi that I might have dragged into the pool.
By 1977, a lot had changed. That’s when the Lee and Joe
Jamail Texas Swimming Center was built on the campus of the
University of Texas at Austin. In the decades since then, even more
has changed. And our once state-of-the-art facility fell victim to
an issue affecting so many other indoor facilities today: air
Changes in the type of chlorine, lack of showering practices, huge
increases in bather loads, makeup water with chloramines, and the
green movement of reusing and recycling the same air are only some
of the reasons for this growing problem.
So, at the University of Texas, we embarked on a $15 million
air-handling renovation that took an approach just as multifaceted
as the problem itself — one that incorporated new
technologies and old ideas.
The first thing we did was look at attacking the source of the
problem. Perhaps bringing some of the old concepts of showering
before swimming and signage about urinating in the pools need to be
brought back. Encouraging your swim coaches to have bathroom breaks
should be instituted. I believe some of those old ideas can be
resurrected. For instance, we are bringing back showering and
closing the pool for bathroom breaks for regular swim times.
But some of these old methods are impractical. The swimming
community has really grown, and swim meets are huge. I’ve
hosted events with more than 2,000 athletes covering a span of
three or four days! Convincing all those athletes to go through the
showers before warm-ups will never work. Add the fact that their
coaches would need to make sure after they’ve been running
around outside between each event that they shower before their
next races. It won't happen. Without new ways of dealing with it,
the problem of chloramine will arise during large events.
The second thing we did was study how to deal with chloramines when
the occasion arises (for example, huge events). First we did a
complete 3-D model of our building. Then we used computational
fluid dynamics (CFD) computer modeling to show what our air was
actually doing. We discovered that the center of the pool
wasn’t getting any airflow — and that’s exactly
where chloramines were gathering.
We looked at sucking the contaminated air out of the building
through the gutters by installing huge air outtakes in the side of
the building and installing vents around the deck. Our CFD modeling
showed that in our case, it would not work. We couldn’t build
a large enough turbine to suck the air across a 50-meter
We ended up incorporating some of the latest technologies that
proved to work in our CFD modeling — and on a practical
basis. Here they are in the order of what I think is most
1. We installed medium-pressure UV. Our combined
chlorine levels instantly went from a constant .4 ppm to .1 or
less. That was immediately noticed by all users. But it did not
completely cure the problem. As you know, UV does not carry a
residual and only is effective as the water passes through the
2. We installed new, custom-built air handlers.
These units were designed with the capacity to bring in 100 percent
outside air. I believe this is one of the most important things we
did to improve air quality. These units were designed to be
completely run by a computerized program that could purge all
existing air in the building in less than an hour.
This was by far the most expensive part of our renovations —
$9 million to be exact. Not everyone can afford new systems, but I
would encourage all to go back and make sure their outside air
dampers can be opened up on a regular basis. Our previous system
had plywood covering the outside air dampers because the
conditioning of the outside air was not energy-minded. You
can’t afford to not open the dampers.
3. We installed an air distribution system and
large fans with air intakes strategically placed according to what
our CFD models showed us would work.
4. We installed a carbon water filter on our
automatic fill lines. During large meets we lose a lot of water.
Our makeup water has high levels of chloramines. Combine a huge
bather load and makeup water with chloramines, and you can see
where I’m going. This is a relatively inexpensive and easy
fix if you have the same problem.
5. We incorporated carbon gas-phase technology.
This involved installing carbon filter pellets on our air handlers
as pre-filters. This technology is used in hospitals. Our testing
is inconclusive at this point, but this was a relatively minor cost
to the overall project, so we decided to try it out.
In the past, I experimented with chloramine removing water filter
media, with poor results. Some of the new technologies available
include using moss as a means of removing chloramines. I’m
interested in looking at these new technologies and am open to
them. But even with the new technologies available today, some of
the best technologies and practices are the ones from our past.