Today, health clubs have the option to upgrade their aquatic systems to modern technology that will provide a safer and healthier environment for both staff and members. Chlorine generation systems, Ultraviolet lamps, and CO2 are some of the options that many clubs are looking to for a less hazardous pump room environment.
The aquatic pump room is without a doubt one of the most challenging locations to maintain in a safe and hazard free manner. After all, if two of the most commonly used products in the “pump” room (chlorine and muriatic acid) are accidentally mixed together the result is the formation of a gas deadly to all life forms. It is an ironic fact that the very same chemicals that keep the water safe for swimmers when combined in solution in the water can also cause irreparable harm when they are mixed directly and allowed to gas off into the surrounding air. Exposure to small amounts of this gas can irritate mucous membranes, the respiratory system and the skin. At high concentrations, the gas can cause chest pain and difficulty breathing and even death.
Some common pump room chemicals are extremely combustible, such as calcium hypochlorite. Contact with combustibles, such as wood, paper, and oil, can cause calhypo to ignite or explode. Additionally, violent reactions can occur should calhypo come in contact with acids, bases, ammonia compounds, metals, amines, and a number of other substances often found in pump rooms. Even improper contact with water is a combustion concern. calhypo must be stored properly in tightly closed containers in a cool, well-ventilated area. Pump rooms are often extremely warm, due to equipment operation, which can make proper storage of calhypo difficult.
Muriatic acid, an extremely common pump room chemical, can burn skin on contact, can cause serious respiratory damage if the fumes are directly inhaled, and can corrode the surrounding environment if the off gassing is not properly contained.
These are just a few examples of the difficulties of maintaining a safe pump room environment. So what can a facility do to ensure the safety of their operators and patrons? Training and organization is the key.
PREVENT ACCIDENTS WITH PROPER TRAINING
- Pump room & hazardous areas should be locked and marked for “Staff Only”, which should be strictly enforced.
- Chlorine and muriatic acid containers need to be clearly marked and double sealed. If liquid, they need to be set onto individual spill containment bases and both products should reside in separate areas of the pump room.
- Chemicals must be organized and stored individually so that cross contamination is not a possibility. Storage on shelves is not recommended, so that a chemical hazard will not be created in the event of an earthquake or shelving failure.
- Have CPO® trained and certified operators on staff.
- Designate properly trained & qualified staff members to carry out chemical checks and adjustments.
- Proper safety equipment, spill response equipment, and MSDS sheets need to be on hand and functional and periodic drills should be scheduled
PREVENT ACCIDENTS BY UPGRADING EQUIPMENT
A club can invest in newer technologies such as chlorine generation and UV technologies for sanitation needs, along with carbon dioxide for pH control, and thereby remove 90% of all hazardous products from the pump room floor. You’ve now replaced the bulk of your chemicals with products as harmless as the salt on our food, the “fizz” in our soft drink, and the light from the sun.
Since a chlorine generator uses salt water to create chlorine on demand and in-line within the pool plumbing, there is no chance of an accidental combination of chlorine and acid. If using CO2 for pH control, rather than muriatic acid, there is no chance of chemical spills. Of course, proper canister storage and handling is required, as are properly functioning regulators and distribution systems, but overall there is much less of a safety concern with CO2. Finally, the use of a UV system to enhance the water sanitation and reduce the combined chlorine means that only a small amount of liquid or granular chlorine needs to be kept on hand for treatment of biological incidents.
A chemical accident as described above – the combination of liquid chlorine and muriatic acid – occurred in Anchorage, Alaska in 2002 when a maintenance worker was critically injured and dozens of children were hurt by an accidental release of chlorine gas at the Alaska Pacific University campus swimming pool.
The early morning shift had just begun and the swim team was getting ready to start their training routine. As so often happens, the early morning maintenance routine of checking the drums, and ensuring they were filled, had become just that – a routine. The crucial difference that day was that the inspection was being done by a new, young staff member. The task was straightforward: make certain that drums are intact and if they require filling, don a mask, goggles and gloves and carefully fill the drum. One drum did need filling so the staff member followed procedure and added product. Unfortunately, he poured muriatic acid into the liquid chlorine drum, and all hell broke loose!
“Up to 60 children and adults were quickly evacuated, a few of them vomiting, spitting and in tears. More than 30 were taken to hospitals by ambulance or private vehicle, said Anchorage Fire Department spokesman Tom Kempton.” (Kenai Peninsula On-line- AK newspaper) web posted Sunday, September 29, 2002
Thankfully, everyone exposed to the chlorine gas eventually made a full recovery, but to prevent the possibility of ever having this happen again, Alaska Pacific University made the switch to a chlorine generator and a CO2 feed system.
While the health of facility employees is clearly a priority, the health of the patrons should also be a consideration. It should be noted that this type of system provides a much healthier aquatic environment with reduced chlorine odors and many other swimmer benefits. Both chlorine generators and UV systems greatly reduce the amount of combined chlorine and sanitation by products in the water, improving both the pool water and the air above it and therefore reducing the potential respiratory irritation that many bathers complain of. In our years of experience, we’ve also come to understand that the salt water itself is considered by many to be far gentler and enjoyable when compared to water sanitized with traditional chlorine.
Here are some user comments that are typical of the response to a switch to a chlorine generator:
A large Medical Facility in Montana reported that “some people who are allergic to the standard method of chlorinating have found that they can tolerate the new salt water. We also had one of our aerobic instructors unable to continue teaching in the pool because of her reaction to the water, but with the new system she could start teaching again.”
An Athletic Club in Maryland recently reported members reporting back a “reduction in pain” due to the Salt water after a therapy class. “These participants have been through 3 weeks of my program while it was Ozone, and notice this drastic difference as soon as it was switched over. AMAZING! Two of the woman described it as “a big Epson salt bath” and VERY therapeutic”.
Clearly, this type of conversion not only improves the ‘healthy’ aspect of a health club from a safety perspective, but also from a therapeutic one!
In reading this, have you recognized an aspect of your club or pump room that can stand for some improvement? Take some time to evaluate your current operating standards. You may find areas that are being overlooked or could do with some upgrades. Maintaining the health and safety of both patrons and employees should always be the first priority and is always an on-going process. We hope these reminders help you take a critical look at your own routines and procedures.