UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Spring/Summer 2001
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photo: Douglas Levere
A safer swim
Eliminating chlorine from the Alumni Arena pool may help swimmers lower their times


The university is using a new, non-chemical method of sterilizing the water in the Alumni Arena pool-a method that was used at the Summer 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia-that could, as an added bonus, help swimmers lower their times. The method may mean the end of constant, high-level chlorination for the UB facility.

Ultraviolet light, once thought of as something out of science-fiction stories, is doing the job of cleaning-actually sterilizing-the water, and is doing it in a much safer way. The system has been used at UB since last spring, thanks to a joint donation of equipment worth more than $55,000 from Wedeco/Ideal Horizons, a Poultney, Vermont-based company at the forefront of ultraviolet technology; Environmental Resources Management of Pittsford, New York, the consultant for the project; and Final Filtration Inc. of Amherst, New York.

The UB natatorium is the only pool in New York State to use the ultraviolet system, says Fred Smeader, manager of engineering support systems for UB's office of facilities planning and design. Chlorine is still used in the Alumni Arena pool, but at the minimum level required by the New York State Department of Health. Smeader adds that the goal is to document the benefits of the UV system at UB and use that information to eventually override the state legislation requiring the use of chlorine in swimming pools. "If you're using UV, there's no need to use chlorine," he explains.

When used incorrectly, chlorine-a corrosive material-can be dangerous and even deadly to human beings, Smeader says. Too much or too little of the chemical in swimming pools can cause water quality to suffer and contribute to numerous water-borne illnesses. In addition, chlorine may discolor wall surfaces at indoor pools and corrode metal surfaces, he says, noting that these problems will not occur with an ultraviolet water-purification system. Moreover, chlorine can greatly change the pH factor and odor of water, whereas UV does not have such an effect.

Another benefit reaches from the Alumni Arena pool to a graduate student in engineering. Jamie Schlossberg, a graduate student in the Department of Civil Engineering who is working with faculty member James N. Jensen, is writing her thesis on the performance of the UV system.

But perhaps the most important benefit of using the UV system could be on the performance and health of swimmers. According to Budd Termin, coach of the men's swim team, the UV system provides a healthier environment. "It totally cleans up the environment," says Termin, now in his 14th season as head coach, "not only for our athletes, but also for recreational users. And from a skin-absorption standpoint, it's a huge health benefit."

With a chemical-free pool, UB swimmers may even be able to reduce their personal best times and post higher scores at championship meets, Termin says. "Swimmers consume oxygen when they swim," he notes. "Increasing that oxygen consumption has a significant effect on their overall metabolic power, which correlates to improved swimming performance. Breathing a cleaner type of air could be a benefit to the athletes."

Since installing the UV system, the change in water quality has been dramatic, Termin says, noting that swimmers can detect even the slightest difference in the water, whether it is a change in temperature or how much or how little chlorine is present. "Within a couple of days of installing the system," he says, "my swimmers were asking me if there was something different in the water."

Although the UV system is new to the United States, it is used widely throughout Europe, Smeader explains. It is being used at a few American universities and competition facilities, including the Indiana University Natatorium at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis, where the U.S. Olympic Trials were held last summer.

Paul Vecchio is director of athletic communications at UB.

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