Reopened pool is now clean, swimmers say

After weeks of having to settle for workouts on stationary exercise equipment, Yale’s swimmers are back doing what they do best.

On Nov. 27, the athletic department re-opened the third floor practice pool which had been had closed one month earlier due to concerns about how the water and air quality of the facility were affecting student athletes. The closing inconvenienced athletes, their coaches, gym members and participants in other aquatic programs, said Larry Matthews, senior associate director of sport and recreation.

The practice pool on the third floor of Payne Whitney Gymnasium reopened Monday after water and air quality problems caused health issues for swimmers and forced the pool to close last month for repairs.
Kathleen Koch
The practice pool on the third floor of Payne Whitney Gymnasium reopened Monday after water and air quality problems caused health issues for swimmers and forced the pool to close last month for repairs.

During the closure, the University installed UV filters in the water return-line to purify the pool’s contents, added four new fans in the room to enhance air quality and commissioned an architect to conduct an evaluation of the improved conditions, Matthews said. Members of the men’s and women’s varsity swimming teams said they were happy with work that has been done.

“It seems they have actually fixed [the problems],” men’s swimming captain Geoff Zann ’07 said. “It’s not just a temporary solution.”

The athletic department closed the pool in October when the administration discovered the facility had poor air circulation and high levels of chemicals called chloramines in the water, which were causing irritation to the eyes, noses and throats of swimmers.

Zann said though the pool may look the same, he can tell conditions have improved because he hears less coughing during and after practice.

In the past few weeks, swimmers been forced to rearrange their practice times to allow them to use the exhibition pool in Payne Whitney’s basement, and the men’s and women’s teams could no longer practice together. As a result, Zann said, coaches had to be on deck for longer periods of time.

Matthews said the Athletic Department collaborated with the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, Yale’s Physical Plant and Brock Enterprises — an independent company that specializes in pool maintenance — to restore the 350,000 gallon pool to full working order.

“It’s easy to take care of your own pool in your back yard,” Matthews said. “But it is much more complicated to keep such a large pool in balance.”

Proper maintenance of such a facility requires consideration of temperature, humidity, the number of people entering the water and the type of activities they will be engaged in, Matthews said. When swimmers sweat in the water, they excrete nitrogen and ammonium, which are attacked and then neutralized by the chlorine, producing chloramines, which are supposed to be caught by the filter.

The problem in the pool was that only some of the chloramines were being caught by the filter, and chloramine was building up and irritating the swimmers, Matthews said. He said the Physical Plant added UV filters to the pipes that carry the pool water in order to remove larger amounts of the chloramines, while the new fans are meant to enhance air exchange, which helps to eliminate stale air and address the breathing problems among athletes.

Swimmer Brendan Woo ’08, who had begun independently testing the pool’s water shortly before the University decided to close the facility, said it is hard to evaluate the change in air quality due to the upgraded fans. But the UV filters are having a noticeable impact, he said.

“Before, so much of the problem had to do with the water,” he said. “Now there has been a huge improvement.”

Upon returning to the third floor of the gym, Woo said, he immediately noticed that there was no longer a strong smell of chlorine. He said he anticipates the quality of the water will remain high unless the facility is mismanaged by the University.

Though the new practice schedule had hassled the personal lives of swimmers and their coaches, Zann said the pool’s closure has not affected the teams’ performances in competitions.

Diver Cameron Murphy ’09 said though her team did not have to relocate their practices — as the divers practice exclusively in the exhibition pool— the presence of swimmers and other students using the basement facility sometimes disrupted her and her teammates.

“The closing really didn’t affect the divers nearly as much as the swimmers,” she said. “But the swimmers had to practice in the outside lanes while we were diving, which made for a very full pool and a challenging coaching environment for my coach.”

Matthews said that over the course of the past week, OEHS has been regularly checking the overall balance of the pool. In the future, he said, the University will change the water in the pool more frequently, perhaps on an annual basis.

“[The situation with the pool] was unfortunate,” Matthews said. “It was an issue that flared up. We dealt with it with a sense of urgency, and it looks like we now have in place a long-term solution.”

Comments