The indoor air quality of natatoriums has become a significant health hazard, particularly regarding competitive swimmers. The lack of regulations and legislature has made this situation worse. HVAC systems, Heating Ventilating & Air Conditioning, are designed to control the air temperature. They have many different uses, for example, regulating the humidity and fresh air turnover rate. However, they do not “clean the air”. As said in the USA Swimming article The Air Quality Issue, “…air quality is directly affected by the water quality, i.e. bad water = bad air!” This “bad air” they speak of stems from the chloramines within the water. Chloramines are chlorine compound that unlike the traditional chlorine, they cannot burn off in the water. They are a primary source of disinfection byproducts.
Chronic chloramines and the associated smell and irritation are caused by a variety of factors. On the contrary to what many swimmers believe, the major cause of these problems is the lack of free chlorine rather than too much. "Free" chlorine is primarily used to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of waterborne illnesses. Free chlorine also oxidizes natural waste products from swimmers, including sweat, body oil, urine and other ammonia-nitrogen compounds. If the free chlorine levels are not sufficiently high to oxidize these nitrogenous wastes, the free chlorine combines with them to form noxious cholarmine compounds.
Chloramines are primarily released during evaporation, during competitive swimmer practices, and when swimmers are aerating the water. They have been proven to cause serious respiratory problems for swimmers, staff around the pool and spectators in the stands. Irritating particles within the environment surrounding and inside pools are generally the result of combined chlorine by-products of disinfection and human waste products. These products are the result of chlorine bonding with sweat, urine, and other products of swimmers. As this concentration increases, they move into the surrounding air.
This air is filled with irritants that can cause a plethora of symptoms, which are dependent on the concentration of irritants in the air, water, and the amount of time the swimmer is in contact with the water and air. Some of the physical symptoms attributed to disinfection byproducts include coughing, eye and nose irritation, anemia, stomach discomfort, damaged hair and skin. Severe symptoms include wheezing or aggravating asthma. It has also been found that the routine breathing of irritants may increased sensitivity to other types of irritants such as fungi and bacteria. Improperly balanced chlorinated pools can actually cause severe asthma. These findings may explain why swimmers are more prone to exercise induced asthma than athletes in other sports. "Results show that nitrogen trichloride or trichloramine is a cause of occupational asthma in swimming pool workers like lifeguards and swim instructors," says Dr. K. Thickett of the...