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Posted on Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

Huron swimmers' parents question safety of liquid pool covers

By Danielle Arndt


Some parents of Huron High School swimmers and divers have complained about what they believe to be side effects triggered by the new liquid pool cover installed during the summer at the school's pool. But district officials say the liquid pool cover chemical has been absent from the pool for several weeks. file photo

Ann Arbor district officials say they will continue to use the new liquid pool cover chemical in their pools, despite some health and safety concerns expressed by a group of Huron High School swimmers' parents.

Several parents with daughters on the girls swimming and diving team contacted the district last month to say their student athletes were experiencing abnormal effects from exposure to pool water this season. The parents cited excessive hair loss, nausea, burning sensations, rashes, unusual itchiness, dry skin and eye irritation.

The parents also had complaints about the water temperature, saying it fluctuated from as low as 72 degrees to as high as 90 degrees from one day to the next. According to, the ideal water temperature for competitive swimming and training is around 82 degrees.

Nausea and eye and skin irritation are fairly common health effects of swimming in chlorinated water. However, the parents said their daughters had been swimming at the school for years and had never experienced some of these symptoms. The only thing they could think of that had changed was the liquid pool cover.

In August, Ann Arbor Public Schools installed a new system that pumps an isopropyl alcohol product into its pools at Huron High School and all five middle schools, excluding Ann Arbor Open. The technology was intended to help the pools conserve water, maintain temperatures and reduce energy costs by creating a thin coating over the water. The product is similar to vegetable oil in that it will not mix with water and it clings to the surface of the pool, said Randy Trent, AAPS executive director of physical properties.

District officials met with parents and with swimming and water polo coaches at Huron High School in late October to discuss their concerns. At the meeting, officials revealed one important thing: The Huron pool had been without the liquid pool cover chemical for more than three weeks, the time during which parents reported the excessive skin irritation and other symptoms.

“And it’s still not on there,” said district spokeswoman Liz Margolis of the chemical. “We are still working on obtaining the product from the distributor.”

A mistake on the part of Heatsavr, the manufacturer of the product, resulted in the district not receiving enough of the chemical, causing the lapse in the product’s use at Huron High School, Margolis said.

“We have not received any concerns from any of the other pools,” she said. “And none of the other teams (at Huron) had reported any skin issues.”

The Huron girls swimming and diving parents did not return phone calls seeking on-the-record comment about the pool situation this season. Margolis said the district has not heard from the parents since meeting with them to discuss the monitoring of the pool’s chemical levels.

Huron boys water polo coach Justin Thoresen also declined to comment. He has said his team did not experience any unusual effects from being in the pool this fall.

Margolis said the pool’s chemical levels are tested three times per day and the district has not observed anything abnormal with regards to those tests.

“I cannot speculate on or comment on any possible reasons the girls team may have been experiencing the symptoms reported,” Margolis said.

She said the temperature was an issue at the beginning of the swim season, but to her knowledge it was due to heating elements in need of repair. The problem has since been fixed, she said.

Pool water tests are available to swimming and diving parents upon request, Margolis said.

In an email obtained by, one parent chastised the district for not informing parents and coaches of the new pool chemical prior to its usage. This parent said he first learned of the liquid pool cover in an article on in August.

Parents also expressed concerns about the amount of exposure to the pool cover chemical that is permitted. They cited a decade-old study that was sent to them by Trent.

In 2002, The Toxicology Group, a branch of Ann Arbor’s NSF International, conducted an evaluation of the Heatsavr product. The study, which was confined to “typical use patterns” and did not address “chronic” use, found the liquid pool cover did not present a risk of adverse effects on adults and children swimming within the pool.

It also found the liquid pool cover product did not interfere with water sanitizing chemicals.

The review says Heatsavr “was found to be non-irritating to the eyes and skin under acute exposure conditions.” Acute exposure was qualified as less than four hours.

Parents said the girls swim team spends at least four hours per day in the pool and breaks the surface at about 6 a.m. Parents said the girls’ use patterns could best be described as repetitive and frequent, therefore “chronic” and not “typical.”

However, district officials said this Heatsavr liquid pool cover has been used for many years in the Dearborn and Allen Park school districts.

Margolis said the district does not conduct a specific test to monitor the liquid pool cover chemical. However, she said the standard pool testing AAPS does three times per day would detect if there was too much of the isopropyl alcohol product.

District officials told Huron water sports parents they would be informed when the liquid pool cover is back in the water, and encouraged parents to contact them if abnormal irritations and other symptoms occur.

According to its Web site, the Heatsavr product is biodegradable and released into the pool using a controllable, programmable, peristaltic pump that connects to the main return line of the swimming pool.

Trent said the technology Ann Arbor installed is set to filter most of the product dose out into the pool when the pool is not in use.

But according to information provided by the district, the liquid pool cover chemical does not need to be removed from the pool for swimming. The product is said to “break apart” whenever the water is “sufficiently disturbed,” but the cover reforms when the water is calm again. Trent said AAPS runs the covers from midnight to 5 a.m.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at



Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 3:35 p.m.

Sooo A2


Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 12:46 p.m.

While I don't have a swimmer at Huron, I do have a high school swimmer who has swam in the pool many times, most recently at the SEC red championships 10 days ago. Whether the liquid cover was in place or not my daughter and other teammates came home with some if not all of their eyebrows missing. Yes, bleached hair and dry skin are the norm for swimmers..missing eyebrows, not so much!


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 10:49 p.m.

I once swam at Huron. There was one time when the chlorine levels in the pool were super high. Many people on the team lost their eyebrows during this time. The pool has been known for its awful water quality. It is the saltiest pool I have ever swam in. Most swimmers at other schools have bleached hair, however, at the end of one swim season when I went to shave I couldn't even tell where I had shaved because the pool had burnt all my hair off. They say the pool is taken care of but from what I have heard the pool does not receive proper care from the school. There is no way this pool gets tested three times a day like they claim. It is a shame that the school ignores all the pool problems because the water sports at huron are some of the most successful of all the sports. If the turf on the football were causing injuries to the football players I'm sure they would take care of it. I hope the Huron administration can finally realize how bad the issue is because the teams that use this pool really deserve to have better facilities.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 9:11 p.m.

There is nothing wrong with the Huron Pool. A few of the swimmers on the girls team have had issues but the majority have not. None of the boys water polo team had any issues described above. The pool is tested daily by qualified, professional technicians and School District presented that evidence at this meeting with the parents. Many of the complaints came from freshman parents whose kids had not been in a pool as much prior to starting a high school swimming program. Water sports athletes always have dry skin and bleached out hair.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 10:50 p.m.

You obviously have never trained in this pool if you make those claims.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

So, I was thinking that these parents came armed to the meeting with something other than anecdotal evidence. That expectation appears to have been unreasonable.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

So this is affecting only girls, only at Huron, and at a time when the chemicals were allegedly not in use? Did anyone think to inpsect the girls' locker room for some sort of bacterial contaminant?


Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

Maybe the boys put itching powder in the girls locker room.

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 6:25 p.m.

Just in case there is any confusion, the isopropyl alcohol product is not vegetable oil based. It is not similar to vegetable oil in its makeup. The only similarity the two share is the fact that they both don't mix with water and instead float on the surface. Thanks everyone for reading! I've been interested by the comments from the former water sports participants, especially George K's. Any other former water sports players out there that have a perspective on this situation or the liquid pool covers?

George K

Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 1:45 p.m.

Case in point, jcj, nobody believes that food is responsible. It's always because A.) you don't exercise enough B.) Your genes determine the injuries you get or C.) Bad luck If you eat right, you don't get ill and you rarely get injured, and when you do get injured you heal very quickly.


Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

Interesting theory George. Maybe my diet is the cause of my rotator cuff problem. Or the reason I have broken my leg more than once. I don't think so!

George K

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 7:21 p.m.

Yay, people aren't raging against me, yet... ;) I find that most people I talk to get upset by the notion that the food they eat is making them sick, and they become quite militant about it. When I was on the wrestling team (I wrestled from 8th grade-12th grade, and was a captain as a senior in '05) we used to go out every week after weigh-ins to the local Asian Buffet and stuff ourselves to "re-nourish" for the weekend tournaments. On this highly-processed, highly dysfunctional diet I developed many health problems, including a season-ending knee injury for which I needed surgery. I can hardly think of a time during any wrestling season when I didn't have a wrist-brace or a knee-brace or some other kind of injury. I just figured that wrestling is a tough sport so I just have to man up to it. If I knew then what I know now about how important diet was I think I would have been a lot more successful. This may be wild speculation, but I wonder if another kind of innocuous team event similar to our "Buffet Binging" has something to do with the girls' swim team woes. That could explain why it only affects the women's swim team and not the men's water polo team, who play in the same pool with the same contaminants.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 5:02 p.m.

as the headline reads....."Huron swimmers' parents question safety of liquid pool covers" I wonder if or how soon an underemployed lawyer will help someone "question safety" ?


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 4:26 p.m.

What is hilarious is that this is a mixture of 15% isopropyl alcohol and 85% ethyl alcohol. Ethyl alcohol is drinking alcohol. Isoproply alcohol is rubbing alcohol. They are both readily available, dirt cheap, nontoxic, industrial chemical. AAPS could buy them on the open market at a fraction of the cost, mix them in the chemistry classroom, and pour them into the pool. A knowledge of sixth grade arithmetic, and you can calculate how much of each to use, from the amount product the company recommends. The manufacturer publishes the formula here:


Tue, Nov 13, 2012 : 3:50 p.m.

The web address makes it clear and certain that those are the only two ingredients in the formula. Read it and see.

Jeff Renner

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

I am sure that the product is not simply a mixture of these two alcohols, but rather that these are "hazardous ingredients." They are both entirely miscible with water; that is, they are soluble in any amount. That is what vodka and rubbing alcohol are, to give two examples, mixtures of ethanol and water or isopropanol and water, respectively. No doubt there are other ingredients in this proprietary product that are not disclosed and which don't need to be because they are not hazardous.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:36 p.m.

lol at the schools spending money on a cover that requires chemicals to be purchased on a regular basis, all in order to avoid having to pull the cover off of the pool.

Angry Moderate

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 10:28 p.m.

They're the ones who are getting the last laugh--so lol at us taxpayers.

George K

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

I used to play water polo for 4 years at Okemos High School, and I used to get terrible skin rashes, much like they describe in the article. I was the only one on the team who had this problem, and I always blamed it on the Chlorine, Bromine, whatever chemicals are in the pool. Years later the problems never went away even though I stopped swimming. I think these poor girls need to look outside the pool for other contaminants, especially in their diet. The amount of artificial colors and sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup that we drank was terrible. We used to drink Gatorade every day during practice and for game-days. I now know that the artificial colors and HFCS were a major cause for my skin problems (and a host of other problems that seemed unrelated). Unfortunately nobody suspects the harsh chemicals that they're ingesting every day for every meal, they always look for external things to explain the daily fluctuations in wellness. Not to say that I think a "liquid pool cover" is a good idea; it sounds like a potentially awful thing, especially because of all the pool water kids inadvertently drink throughout a swim meet or a water polo match. But the biggest way to impact these symptoms is to fix the team's diet by eliminating preservatives, artificial colors, HFCS, limiting soy, corn and wheat intake, and by eating more leafy green vegetables. All the nay-sayers can feel free to rage against me, but I'm speaking from my own experience, and I no longer have any skin problems which have plagued me my entire life, and which continue to plague the rest of my family.

Ron Granger

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:51 p.m.

The appropriate way to deploy a technology or infrastructure change like this would have been to conduct a PILOT STUDY on one or two pools. It is also important to communicate such changes to customers, rather than assume the local news media will do that part of your job for you. It is also important to determine that the supplier can supply the product on a consistent basis. Apparently they cannot: "We are still working on obtaining the product from the distributor."


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 5:19 p.m.

I agree with you on your 2nd and 3rd points, but not on your main point. Why would anyone run a 'pilot study' on products that have been in use for years? Would you expect them to run a pilot study every time they changed their floor wax? Or every time they bought volleyballs from a different supplier? The product has a local track record (Dearborn and Allen Park were cited); and has been around at least 10 years (the cited report from The Toxicology Group was done in 2002). It's not like they went out and bought something that was invented last week and had been completely untested.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

Well, the article states the girls have been swimming in the same pool for years and only recently developed these symptoms - all of them swimmers, and all of them since the introduction of this chemical. The symptoms are real and visible . A logical person WOULD conclude that the cause was this chemical if they believed the chemical was in use.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

The article also says only swimmers/divers on the Huron girls' team experienced symptoms. Nothing with the boys' teams using the same pool. And nothing with either gender at other locations using the cover. There's only one thing a logical person could conclude: It must be something else.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

I disagree that a logical person would conclude that the cause was this chemical. A logical person would see that correlation does not imply causation and therefore not conclude anything without more evidence.

Renee S.

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 12:55 p.m.

I'm glad they had run out of cover for those three weeks so we could all see how idiotic these claims are. This is just another case of "windmill syndrome" :


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 4:51 p.m.

Brad I wish I'd thought of that!


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 2:17 p.m.

I was probably smart meter exposure at home that was the real culprit.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 12:30 p.m.

A substance that acts like vegetable oil sounds like it would slow the swimmers down. Have the girls noticed a difference in their race times? Races can be won or lost by tenths of seconds so anything that affects the consistency of the water can really make a difference.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Isopropyl alcohol is not a vegetable oil. The analogy was used to illustrate the point that it separates and is less dense than water. The most common location you will find isopropyl alcohol is on a common alcohol swab used by your doctor, nurse or phlebotimist. With that said, there must be more to the Heatsavr stuff as the alcohol would be expected to evaporate quickly.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 10:56 p.m.

Do you seriously believe that a company is selling a product for swimming pools that could materially affect the results of swimming matches held in that pool?

Angry Moderate

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

Some Guy in A2: it won't affect both teams equally if the home team practices in it every day and gets used to it, but visiting teams are surprised by it.

Some Guy in A2

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 7:01 p.m.

Assuming it slowed someone down, any pool treated with this would affect both teams equally. So no, it can't really make a difference.


Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 12:24 p.m.

So what DID cause those symptoms? Placebo effect? Unscrupulous intent?

Renee S.

Mon, Nov 12, 2012 : 12:44 p.m.

As the article mentioned, they're all symptoms of exposure to chlorinated water. Who doesn't get irritated eyes as a result of chlorination? And fyi it's called the nocebo effect when the symptoms are negative.