Back when Ernest “Chip” R. Blatchley III was a lifeguard and competitive swimmer, he was probably didn’t give much thought to the disinfection byproducts he was inhaling. Now, as a Purdue University professor and a leading researcher on disinfection byproducts, Blatchley has made it his business to find out exactly what all swimmers inhale.

“Considering the level of human exposure, it is interesting to me that there isn’t really that much existing data on pool chemistry,” Blatchley says. “We know so much more about drinking water chemistry as compared to recreational water, and there are some important differences between the two that remain undefined. These unanswered questions make this field of study exciting to me.”

Blatchley received his Ph.D. in civil (environmental) engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. His work has focused on DBPs and how secondary methods of disinfection, including those that involve UV radiation, halogens, and combinations, may affect or alter water chemistry.

In 2007, Blatchley presented his findings at the World Aquatic Health Conference in Cincinnati. He completed two studies to better define the photochemistry of the pool environment. The first was to identify which volatile compounds (chloramines) are formed when pool water is chlorinated, and the second was to discover exactly what happens to these compounds when subjected to UV radiation.

“Our objective is to better understand the chemicals that end up in the gas phase, the chloramines,” Blatchley says. “There’s literature that suggests swimming may promote asthma and this concern is driving our need for a better understanding. With a better understanding of the chemistry of the pool environment, pool operators can improve their air and water quality.”

Now at work on a follow-up study, Blatchley plans to continue his work and expects to have new data to present this year. “Ultimately, our goal is to develop a comprehensive model of the indoor swimming pool environment,” he says. “We want to be able to create a predictive computer model that simulates rates of exchange between water and air, and the behaviors of different water-treatment systems. This will help us define an optimal system and improve air and water quality.”