By Kathleen Hannon
On the third day of the 2014 YMCA Nationals, the announcer called out “AND HOW ABOUT THIS AIR?” and received an eruption of applause, stomping, and cheers in response.
As busy as she was as Greensboro Aquatic Center (GAC) Executive Director, Susan Braman admits she paused in the millisecond between the announcer’s question and the response. But the crowd’s enthusiasm assured her she’d done it. They’d done it. The problem GAC had been wrestling with for the last three years was finally over. And she had the science to prove it.
Greensboro Aquatic Center 2014 YMCA Nationals –the Major Event Evacuator (white bench between the warm-up pool and main competition pool).
Open since August 2011, GAC is a world-class facility: three state-of-the-art pools with remote judging terminals for diving and synchronized swimming competitions, not to mention dedicated seating for 2500 spectators.
In short, GAC is designed to host any world-class watersports competition and do so in style.
But in early 2012 while hosting the YMCA Nationals for the first time, Braman and her staff discovered a lone, yet significant problem: the air quality utterly deteriorated during big meets.
SWIMMING WITH SHARKS
Braman’s face becomes pinched with memory. “We were fine hosting a thousand swimmers — it’s a big facility. But the Y Nationals is the biggest event we host in terms of volume — something like 1500 swimmers and 2500 spectators in the stands. On the third day of the 2012 meet, the air was terrible.
The teams that train outdoors really suffered — some were coughing, some experienced labored breathing. So those clubs were first to have issues and complain.
One coach even yelled at me, told me I didn’t know what I was doing. He insinuated I didn’t keep the pool clean. He had no idea what 1500 swimmers were doing to that pool.”
Prelims of YMCA Nationals: over 2000 spectators in the stands, another 1000 on deck
Renowned GAC Lead Pool Operator, NSPF CPO I Richard Tuttle acknowledged, “Around the third day the chloramines rose, giving us an air quality issue. While we were replacing them with as much fresh air as the HVAC could handle, they were mixing in the air returns and re-entering the facility.”
Chad Onken, Head Coach of YMCA of the Triangle, remembers those days too. “Some days you’d be okay, and some you’d be completely utterly absolutely miserable. Our kids called it the GAC hack,” referencing the hacking cough, stuffy noses, and rashes that his swimmers suffered.
Onken notes, “It’s a consistent issue across the country. It’s something you live with. As a coach, I was frustrated knowing they [YOTA] weren’t swimming to potential because of air quality issues. We noticed it statistically. During a three-day meet at GAC, the times got slower every day.”
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BREATHING
Air quality is the new hot topic in natatorium design, thanks to a new study released by Purdue University in March of this year. The study proved definitively that the toxic gasses created by chlorine mixing with urea and sweat in a pool are detrimental to swimmers’ health. Known as chloramines, these gasses are inevitable at any indoor pool, but heavy usage and agitation — like a meet — can produce an amount of the gas that causes the kind of health symptoms Onken and Braman described.
More notably, while most symptoms are mild, responsible for the highly unpopular “pool smell”, as well as coughing, sore throats, runny noses, itchy eyes and skin rashes, according to Purdue, untreated and repeated exposure can prove more serious and lasting consequences. The study cited “reduced lung function” in lifeguards.
Braman and Tuttle were familiar with the many problems poor air quality caused GAC, prior to the Purdue Study. What they were less clear on was what they could do about it, until they heard about the Paddock Evacuator.
NO LONGER WAITING TO EXHALE
Invented right at the start of the recession in 2009, and addressing an air quality problem few industry executives acknowledged existed, the patent-pending Evacuator is today still a relatively unknown quantity, even within the swimming community. Only about 60 pools in the country have had one installed.
A variety of Paddock Evacuator systems can be retrofitted into existing facilities.
Invented by Paddock Pool Equipment Company out of Rock Hill, South Carolina, the Evacuator system is designed to source capture chloramines right where they reside: at the surface of the water where swimmers breathe. Capable of being installed in the guttering system or as a bench to sit on the deck of the pool the custom-fit Paddock Evacuator draws the toxic gasses off the water and out of the facility entirely.
Greensboro Aquatic Center is the largest competitive pool in the country to date that has retrofitted their facility to include the Paddock Evacuator system. Due to some HVAC retrofitting, the final adjustments were completed mere days before the 2014 YMCA Nationals. There was no time to determine whether or not it would fix, or merely mitigate, the problem. And Braman had a lot on the line…GAC’s three-year contract for the YMCA Nationals was about to run out.
GAC and Paddock Evacuator were set to face the biggest air quality challenge they’d ever faced.
THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND
On the third day of the 2014 meet, swimmer Ben Creekmore from the Upper Mainline YMCA in Berwyn, PA pronounced, “This is the third year that I have swam at GAC for YMCA Nationals. In years past, I could not sit inside the pool area without feeling my skin burn. This year, it felt like there was fresh air. I have swum at a lot of big pools, such as Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and the air quality at GAC this year seemed to be just as good if not better.”
While Braman and Tuttle were encouraged by testimony like Creekmore’s, they weren’t leaving anything up to opinion. They studied the numbers hourly. Braman explains, “Our HVAC is automated, so guys can go into the computer and get detailed reports. They measure carbon dioxide — that’s the standard in our industry, and chloramines follow the same pattern.”
As CO2 & chloramines spike during warm-ups, Paddock Evacuator kicks into action.
“Evacuator switched into “meet mode.” Normally, at this meet this size, I’d expect a reading as high as 1500. But the CO2 readings never got as high as 700. And once all the swimmers left, they fell again. By morning, the air quality was pristine.”
Richard Tuttle’s analysis was no less compelling. “The Evacuator captured chloramines on the deck as they were rising off the pool and expelled them. The result was minimal traces, virtually solving our air quality issues.”
A singular event brought the reality home for Braman. “That coach that yelled at me last year came up to me and said ‘I’ve got to apologize. You guys have done it. You fixed it. You guys are leading the country in dealing with a bad problem. An epidemic problem.'” The coach’s words also reinforced two beliefs Braman held: first, that the Paddock Evacuator solution works, and second, that GAC is not the only national caliber facility contending with air quality issues.
Ultimately, the results exceeded everyone’s expectations: a record number of national records were broken — 20 new national records, where there were only 14 the year before. Chad Onken’s team placed third in combined team events, broke 2 national relay records and set more than 20 team records at the meet.
Onken admits, “I was skeptical about whether it would make a big difference. But GAC went from awful to perfect. Drastic change. Undoubtedly now one of the fastest pools in the country.”
And the Evacuator? Today’s fashion, or tomorrow’s expectation? Onken doesn’t hesitate. “Having an Evacuator is going to become essential to any facility that hosts meets of the 1000 plus size.”
A record number of records were broken at the 2014 YMCA Nationals at GAC