Jim Monks used to lose a lot of sleep over his smelly pool. “I would have to come in at 10 p.m., superchlorinate the pool, wait one full filtration system, race home to catch a couple hours of sleep, then come back in at 3 a.m. to dechlorinate,” says the director of maintenance for the indoor pool at the Lake County Family YMCA Central Branch in Vernon Hills, Ill.
Today though,Monks is sleeping soundly through the night, thanks to the
installation of ultraviolet, or UV, technology at his pool.
“It’s simple. You plug it in and it does all the work
itself,” he says.
Already in widespread use around Europe and Australia, UV technology is
helping an increasing number of indoor pool and waterpark operators
rest easier in the United States. Advocates say UV systems, in
conjunction with sanitizer, disinfect and maintain a constantly
clean body of swimming water. They also do a better job at wiping
out pesky viruses and bacteria chlorine sometimes only hobbles. And
although about 25 percent of the chlorine is destroyed when it runs
through UV systems, users end up saving about 20 percent on
chemical costs because less chlorine is needed, says Rob Runyon,
president, sales and service of CEM in Englewood, Colo.
Now, as more and more facilities discover the benefits of UV, Runyon and others
predict its popularity will grow at increasing rates, finding its
way into every indoor water arena around the country.
The Trouble with Chloramines
If the testimonials surrounding UV sound infomercial-breathless, it probably reflects the relief
operators such as Monks feel in having finally found an answer to
stubborn problems that have plagued indoor facilities for
First and foremost are chloramines. In high-volume indoor pools and water
play areas, swimmers leave behind oils, sweat, urine, and sometimes
fecal matter, all of which chlorine rushes to combat. As the
chlorine bonds with these residual human molecules, they form
chloramines, or combined chlorine, which cause the strong pool odor
often associated with indoor facilities, and create eye and skin
irritation. They also damage the structure of the pool, wearing out
concrete and metal.
Additionally, for all the sanitizing it gets, pool water is still populated with
some nasty bacteria: namely cryptosporidium and
giardia. Both are resistant to chlorine but sensitive to UV
light. Ridding the water of these bacteria is important because
they can cause gastroenteritis for several days, says Dr. Chuck
Gerba, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of
Arizona in Tucson. Giardia can be treated with an
antibiotic, but cryptosporidium has no treatment.
Typically though, swimmers are affected by indoor pool water in less serious,
albeit equally annoying, ways. For instance, strong chloramines can
give swimmers headaches, say experts. Adolph Kiefer, president of
Kiefer & Associates in Zion, Ill., compares the smell to that
of rotten eggs. “People are getting sick from the odor:
lifeguards, teachers, instructors, coaches, and swimmers,” he
Previously,the only method of ridding chloramines from bodies of swimming
water was drastically increasing the chlorine level in the pool and
running through a full filtration cycle before bringing the level
down. This process is known as superchlorination or breakpoint
chlorination. By regulation, public swimming facilities are not
allowed to surpass an established chlorine limit, so the procedure
is often performed at night, after the pool is closed to the
public. Sometimes the chloramine level is so high, the filtration
cycle, which can last around three hours depending on the pool
size, has to be run twice through to bring down the
“Any pool operator knows the horrors of superchlorination,” Monks
says. But what’s really irksome, he says, is that even with
the effort of superchlorination, “you can’t get them
all. You will never be able to get them to zero.”
UV in Action
That’s where UV comes in.UV technology disinfects water to a near-pure form, which is often
bottled and sold as drinking water. But it leaves no residual
disinfectant or killing power as with chlorine. Therefore, it
should always be used with chlorine, caution experts such as
Though it might seem like magic, UV actually relies on precise science.
Designed at a specific wavelength to target bacteria, viruses,
germs and chloramines, the UV system receives pool water four to
six times a day. As the water passes through the system, the UV
rays create photochemical and photo-oxidation reactions. These
reactions cause something called cross-linking in the nucleic acid
molecules of the pathogens. This cross-linking keeps the DNA from
functioning and reproducing, unlike chlorine, which only damages
the membranes of bacteria and attacks the protein shell of viruses.
At the same time, the UV rays destroy chloramines, or combined
chlorine, by effectively uncombining it through a complicated
chemical chain reaction.
Different spectrums of UV come with different pressure systems. The medium
pressure, ideal for treating swimming pools, sends wavelengths of
190 to 350 nanometers, which successfully destroys chloramines and
scrambles the genetic code of viruses.
The unit is safe, too — with the bulb fully encapsulated inside the
system, out of reach and contact from swimmers. Indoor facilities
that have installed the UV system praise its efficiency.
“We turned around one pool where they were fighting problems and
complaints,” Runyon says. “Within a day, people were
asking what they did. They noticed the smell was
Monks is equally effervescent. “It’s like having a part-time
employee at my facility,” he says. “I don’t have
Ozone vs. UV
Ozone is UV’s closest competitor. Ozone works by producing a highly oxidative gas
generated on site. Ozone is made by exposing oxygen to UV
radiation, which creates an extra oxygen atom. When dissolved in
water, ozone combines with organic compounds and destroys their
original structure through the chemical process of oxidation. These
compounds can be chloramines and other parasites.
Experts say ozone is a good alternative, but the system is more complex than
UV. Ozone systems require high voltage, higher heat, dryers, and
other components that need more technically savvy operators. Ozone
also requires regular cleaning because of the constant drawing of
air into the system, says Doug Whiteaker, principal at Water
Technology in Beaver Dam, Wis.
The biggest bonus with UV installations is their simplicity and low
maintenance, say experts. Typical maintenance involves a change of
the light bulb, an event that occurs every 6,000 to 8,000
Though the initial cost of the system is high — $15,000 to $20,000 for a
spa and up to $50,000 for a regular pool — experts say the
investment can be well worth it. “The cost per day is pennies
because it takes very little energy,” Kiefer says. It also
reduces the workload of pool operators who no longer need to
superchlorinate the pool on a nightly basis.
And compared to ozone, UV still comes in less expensive. “If you compare
that to the price of ozone, it is about a third of the cost of what
it would take in ozone to treat the equivalent gallonage,”
UV Catching On
No wonder this relatively new phenomenon is catching on so fast. Whiteaker says he is aware of
about 100 facilities nationwide with UV systems, and several U.S.
companies are preparing to manufacture them. Currently, four
American manufacturers produce the equipment, Kiefer
What took so long for the technology to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe?
Monks attributes the delayed acceptance in the United States to the
catching on of any trend, which usually starts on the coasts and
moves inland. But he believes UV will grow in popularity
Others foresee the adoption of UV systems growing beyond waterpark and
high-capacity facilities. “We’ll see them in larger
pools as there are opportunities to control the manufacturing costs
for these units,” Whiteaker says. “We’ll start
seeing them translate down into motel pools and spas and smaller
volumes of water.”
As glowing testimonials keep mounting, that prediction seems more and more
likely. Take Donna Kezeske. “We test our water four times a
day, and it’s been top-notch,” says the business
manager and aquatics specialist at the Lodge at Cedar Creek in
Sheboygan, Wis. Her 50,000-square-foot indoor waterpark runs
through 200,000 gallons of water with a maximum capacity of 1,000
In fact,indoor waterparks are a growing market for UV. Peter Simon of
Neuman Pools in Beaver Dam, Wis., says every new waterpark his
company is building includes a system. “Any indoor facility
with moderate to high levels of bather capacity are getting
one,” says the senior designer, sales and design.
But they’re equally popular at traditional indoor pools. Just ask
Don Burton. “The most noticeable thing was it drastically
reduced bad chloramines,” says the aquatics director at
ProSports Club in Bellevue, Wash. His club recently installed one
unit on the family spa and another on the recreational pool, which
hosts about 600 kids a week, and is planning to add one more to the
Now that professionals are beginning to realize that there’s a
superior alternative to superchlorination, Monks believes
it’s only a matter of time before UV technology becomes the
norm. “It will be stupid not to have this in your
facility,” he says.