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 quality.
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 pool.
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 important.
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 light.
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.