Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Pool switching to chlorine from salt water


May 23, 2019

Swimmers in Haines love the pool’s salt-based chlorination system, but it’s having unintended consequences—corroding the pool’s gutters, which public facilities director Brad Ryan says shortens the pool’s lifespan.

Each year pool maintenance costs the borough upwards of $5,000, increasing the roughly $250,000 of total operating costs. Haines has an aluminum, above-ground Chester Pool. Ryan said the gutters have failed twice due to salt-water corrosion. This summer, the pool will undergo a costly $500,000 renovation, including replacing the gutters with stainless steel ones.

Regular swimmers like Kate Saunders are happy thinking that the pool will last longer, but are less than thrilled about the switch to chlorine. Saunders said she swims three to six days a week, “as many days as the pool is open in the morning,” she said.

“I’ve always been a swimmer, and as a teenager I would swim a couple hours a day and I had green hair and red eyes. (Chlorine) has never made me stop, although I can list off a bunch of people who have stopped because of it,” Saunders said.

Saunders said she doesn’t know of any other pool that has switched back from salt to chlorine. She is skeptical of the chlorine system. “I admit I am for whatever will keep the pool going the longest,” she said.

Salt corrosion has been an issue for the Haines pool for several years. Before the pool’s salt chlorination system, there were some big concerns with chlorine, said Ryan.

“Chlorine is corrosive too, don’t have any illusions that it’s not. It’s just supposed to be less corrosive. We’ve been patching these gutters back together long before I was here. We just don’t have the budget money to fix it,” said Ryan.

Before he proposed the switch to chlorine, two companies that looked at Haines’ pool suggested it, and Ryan sought advice from USA Swimming’s facilities department.

“We do not recommend any sort of salt system. Liquid chlorine can work extremely well if the pool users do what they are supposed to do,” Mike Nelson from USA swimming said.

The problem with chlorine is twofold. Chlorine in pools is not dangerous on its own, but it could be if it reacts with too many chemicals brought into pools. According to Nelson, an estimated 12 percent of people shower before swimming, and the bodies of the 88 percent who don’t contaminate pools with caffeine, Ibuprofen and Acetaminophen, DEET insect repellent, a flame retardant used in swim suits called TECP and other bacteria. Another problem is that a chlorine system will increase the level of chloramines in the pool. Chloramines are chemical compounds of chlorine and ammonia that can worsen existing allergies, according to Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Rachel Taliercio. Chloramines create the strong “chlorine smell” in pools that can make people cough and wheeze.

“Initially I was sad,” said swimmer and assembly member Heather Lende. “I’ve gotten used to (salt water). It’s buoyant. But when the facilities manager explained that part of the problems with corroding was salt, when they said it would shorten the pool life, I thought, ‘okay,’” she said.

Lende said she felt better thinking that new chlorination methods use less chlorine than old ones. “They think they can do it with minimum irritation to people. Brad Ryan assured us that he would have professionals monitor chlorination levels,” she said.

Ryan is proposing to replace the salt water system with chlorine and possibly a medium pressure UV system. One of the chlorine system companies on the table is Clear Comfort, which says on its website that its system will not damage pool equipment or surfaces. It will require weekly adjustment of chlorine levels, storage and handling of toxic chemicals, regular shock treatments to raise the chlorine level, additional maintenance chemicals between $300 to $800 a year, and potential extra water use.


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