Air issues at pool linked to sweaty athletes, expert says

An expert on pools has waded into the controversy over air quality at the Lawson Aquatic Centre in Regina, suggesting sweat from athletes and urine in the water are part of the problem.

Sweat and urine combine with pool water to produce problem gas

An expert on pools says urine and sweat combine with treated water to produce problem vapours for athletes. (Joana Draghici/CBC)

An expert on pools has waded into the controversy over air quality at the Lawson Aquatic Centre in Regina, suggesting sweat from athletes and urine in the water are part of the problem.

Earlier this week, health officials said people using the Lawson should not exert themselves.

There have been ongoing complaints that chloramine vapours in the facility have led to nausea among competitive swimmers, who train at the Lawson.

Chloramine is produced when sweat and urine mix with chlorine in the pool water.

It is a condition that affects indoor pools around the world, according to Tom Griffiths, an expert on the subject at Penn State University.

"The chloramines hang on the surface of the water, so the athlete who is working out hard not only is producing that chloramine gas but they're breathing it in," Griffiths explained. "And an athlete has a respiratory requirement that can be as much as 200 times greater than the average swimmer."

Ultraviolet filtration needed

Griffiths says chloramines can never be completely eliminated from the environment of an indoor pool, but adding an ultraviolet disinfection system to an existing filtration system can reduce the vapours.

"You're never going to eliminate them," he said. "So what you have to do is try to reduce them and the most significant and effective way of doing that is by adding ultraviolet light disinfection."

Jenna Haupstein, a member of the provincial water polo team, said training at the Lawson is difficult.

"It feels like you have a cough there that's constantly there," Haupstein said Wednesday. "No matter how many times you try clearing your throat or anything, it just won't go away."

Haupstein said the Lawson pool is the only place in Regina the team can train.

"We want to be at our best level when we're training because we have to compete across Canada," she said. "But when we're having coughing fits or we're having trouble breathing, it definitely affects how well we can train and what we're doing at practice."

Swim meets affected

John Hill, the president of Swim Saskatchewan, said testing at the pool has not — to his knowledge — included samples above the water to check for chloramines.

"To our knowledge there's never been an air quality taking a look at what we call chloramines on the surface level of the water," Hill said. He said large vents installed by the city did not help the situation.

Hill said the problem is affecting swim meets and there is concern the sport will lose young athletes.

On Wednesday, Regina's deputy city manager told CBC News that two consultant have been examining the air at the pool.

Jason Carlston said one report is expected to be in the city's hands by Friday. He said the consultants have been studying the air above the water surface.

With files from CBC's Joana Draghici


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