You still can?t drink swimming pool water, but it?s becoming a lot closer to the water from the kitchen sink.
For a long time, the aquatics industry (also referred to as recreational water) has been borrowing ideas and technologies from the drinking water industry. But with the growing concern over recreational water illnesses, that process has sped up, creating new markets for manufacturers and new options for operators.
?I don?t think we had any drivers before,? said Robert Kappel, regional sales manager for the aquatics division at Siemens Water Technologies Corp. in Baraboo, Wis. ?Before, [recreational water illnesses] weren?t on our radar, and air quality wasn?t until the waterpark explosion started atomizing all the water.? Kappel also said small bodies of water with high bather loads put RWIs and water quality issues on the map.
Those issues have already undergone extensive research and development in the drinking water industry. Now those technologies and ideas are making their way into aquatics, from verified studies in filtration techniques to the use of ultraviolet systems.
?The drinking water industry and research base is vast compared to anything to do with recreational water,? said Michael Beach, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. ?The testing of new technology is always driven by drinking water. The funding is there? and exposure is so much higher. Everybody drinks water.?
Because the drinking water market is so competitive, many companies entered the recreational water treatment side to generate bigger margins and become key players in aquatics. And with testing and verifying already complete, products require only minor tweaking to make them viable. That in turn makes it cost-effective for manufacturers to enter the market.
For example, UV systems have been proven to effectively destroy cryptosporidium, which takes conventional chlorine up to a week to kill. Though relatively new to aquatics, UV has been used in drinking water filtration systems for years.
Kappel believes other technologies, such as membrane filtration used in computer microchip processing and bottled water distillation, will enter the recreational scene next. Currently, he said the cost of fine filtration technique is still too high for many facilities.
?A lot of times you see the drinking water equipment is very high-end, high-dollar, and the problem is getting it into a price point where people can afford it in the aquatics industry,? he said.
Another problem lies in the knowledge of those running swimming pools, said Jim Lauria, president of Team Chemistry, based in Reno, Nev. He predicts that as technology continues to migrate, operators will be forced to a whole new level of training, nearly on par with the very technically trained operators of municipal drinking water facilities.
The movement is already underway at NSF International, where measures have been taken to link the two industries together, said Richard Martin, business unit manager for the Recreational Water Industry aspect of the organization. Around 2004, he noticed the lines between recreational water and drinking water technologies were blurring. So he got his staff trained for the two industries to better handle the clients who manufacture both types of treatment products.
?It?s always been a silo approach,? he said. ?We?re hoping to bridge some of the gaps and harmonize those languages where we can,? he said. He is also working on bringing testing and certification processes for recreational products to the same level as drinking water through European regulations and EPA standards.
Obviously, some things remain sacred in the recreational water industry. For one, drinking water is linearly treated, while recreational water is continually disinfected because of bathers. But experts say there?s still much that can be applied from the drinking water market.
?We can look to drinking water systems as models for research data,? Beach said. ?That data is immediately transferable. We don?t need to repeat it.?