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Public swimming pools are increasingly turning to ultraviolet light to kill bacteria and other pathogens that chlorine doesn't always catch.
Sanitizing pool water with UV has become the standard for new pools, and many existing pools are being retrofitted with UV systems. The upgrades are costly, but pool managers say they improve safety and reduce the need for chlorine, which irritates eyes and skin.
Ten years ago, swimmers in Worthington Pools' natatorium at Thomas Worthington High School were choking on the chloramine gas produced when chlorine reacts with organic matter.
Chloramine levels typically should be less than 0.2 part per million, said Dick Rabold, the manager of the nonprofit
Swiminc, which runs the pools. "We were above 1.0 most of the time. We were to the point that athletes could not train in here without having some sort of aggravation. If you had asthma or other respiratory problems, you'd be sticking your head outside the door or have your inhaler next to you."
The UV system, which cost $17,000, cycles the pool's water through the bright light several times a day. It ended the misery, Rabold said.
"People would say, 'Well, something's different. ... The water feels silkier or smoother.' They weren't swimming through all these harsh chemicals."
UV systems recently were installed at indoor pools in Worthington's community center and at Columbus School for Girls and Ohio State University.
Even owners of outdoor pools, which benefit from the sun's UV rays, are installing them. Four Columbus pools now have UV: Dodge Park's and those at Barnett, Blackburn and Thompson recreation centers.
Swimmers at Delaware County's Council for Older Adults Enrichment Center noticed skin and breathing irritation subside after an $11,500 system was installed five years ago, said Patti Fifner, the aquatics manager. And costly pool re-filling, to dilute chloramine levels, no longer was necessary.
"It's the standard now; everybody's putting them on," said Tim Patterson, the owner of Patterson Pools, which installs and maintains commercial pools. "The big reason is safety and health. UV kills everything in the water -- cryptosporidium, E. coli, anything that gets in the water that chlorine doesn't get."
Still, many pool owners can't afford the upgrade. The Reynoldsburg Swim Center is using 50-year-old filtering technology along with chlorine, said pool manager Allen Gerdau.
That should work fine, if monitored diligently, said Kurt Carmen, the president of the Ohio Aquatic Council, which evaluates pools and promotes pool safety.
UV is "a very expensive technology, and unnecessary if your operator is skilled in what you're doing," Carmen said. "I don't think it gives you any advantage over what can be maintained with the prudent use of chemicals."
But some pool managers say UV can only help ensure safety.
"It's just an extra layer of sanitation that I've chosen to use," said John Gloyd, aquatics administrator for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. "We're taking some of the human element out of it. With this, I know I've got clean water."