Huron swimmers' parents question safety of liquid pool covers
AnnArbor.com file photo
- Previous coverage: High-tech liquid pool 'covers' coming to Ann Arbor school pools
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 USASwimming.org, 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 AnnArbor.com, 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 AnnArbor.com 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.