Queens University setting new standard for pool air quality

In the basement of the Levine Center at Queens University at three pm on a Tuesday, the swim team hit the blocks. Jeff Dugdale, the Director of Swimming and Aquatics, says their pool is setting a new standard for air quality.

“This pool was built specifically for us here,” he told FOX 46, “with some neat technology with a very specific end goal.”

That goal was to attract Olympic athletes, and provide state of the art air quality.

Ella Van Troba is a freshman swimmer at Queens University, “You walk in here, and you don’t really smell chlorine or anything,” she said. “It’s not super humid, like, actually in the morning it’s kind of cold on deck.”

Van Troba’s coach, Jeff Dugdale, says he took this job under one condition; he be allowed to get results by building a pool that prioritizes air quality.

LINK: Poor air quality around pools potential health hazard for swimmers

“If they can’t concentrate, or they’re having to use their inhalers, or they have to get out because they’re not feeling well because of the air quality,” he said referring to his swimmers, “I can’t make the impact that I’m looking for.”

Dugdale claims the standard for air quality is changing thanks to enzymes that keep the water clean, and also what’s called the Paddock Evacuator.

The evacuator pushes bad air from one side of the pool, and sucks it off the surface of the water from the other end. It then ejects the bad air out of the building entirely.

Along I-77 in Rock Hill, Don Baker operates Paddock Pool Equipment Co. inside a massive warehouse.

“We manufacture stainless goods, and in the indoor pool environment, they were being degraded by the bad air,” Baker said.

What Baker discovered is the air wasn’t only destroying his equipment; it was also hurting swimmers at the highest level.

FOX 46 talked to three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines who said, “there’s some things that we do take for granted and that’s air quality in pools.”

Chlorine and compounds, like sweat and urine, combine to form chloramines; they are heavier than air, and sit on the surface of the water right where swimmers gasp for air.

Although the CDC says chloramines can trigger asthma attacks in people who already have asthma, reps say, “the science is not clear as to whether swimmers swim because they have asthma or swimmers develop asthma because they swim.”

Although Dugdale hasn’t tested the air at Queens University’s pool without the evacuator running, he says something else tells him their new system is working.

“I sat there and thought, ‘wait a minute. Where are all their inhalers?’” he said.

Dugdale says his athletes who brought their inhalers to every practice either used them less or stopped using them entirely. Then the biggest test: swimming at away meets.

“We’ve gone to NCAA Championships where we had to go to the pharmacy and buy Neti Pots in order to flush out the sinuses,” Dugdale said.

Queens University has attracted the attention of other leaders in the pool industry. In January, they all came together to talk about the need for better air quality; Dugdale was one of the keynote speakers.

“Sometimes it’s ignorance,” he told FOX 46, “and that’s not a bad thing; ignorance is not knowing, and they just don’t know.”

Baker and Dugdale are getting results for swimmers. They traveled to Washington D.C. to educate the EPA, OSHA and politicians on the necessity for better air in indoor pools. Their hope is to earn more congressional hearings and expose leaders to a new standard.

And as far as their secondary goal of attracting Olympians?

Tyler Clary told FOX 46, “I was actually really, really pleased when I moved down here to Queens because I knew I was going to be at their pool,” he continued, “and I knew that they had a specific system in there for circulating the air around, and making sure it was absolutely the cleanest air you could possibly have in a pool environment,” he said. “It made a huge difference.”

Both the men and women’s swim teams at Queens University have won the past four NCAA Championships, earning the DII teams a rare invite to the White House.