CANMORE – A quick fix isn’t the way Elevation Place operators want to go when it comes to air quality issues inside the aquatics centre.
Closed on and off since Jan. 14, the Town of Canmore’s manager of recreation said the pool will hopefully be fully open, hot tub included, by next Tuesday (Feb. 18) as the team works to solve air quality issues once and for all.
As Jim Younker, manager of recreation, explains, the issues have mostly been isolated to the hot tub.
“The hot tub is always the most difficult body because of the density of people in it,” he said.
“You take – in our case 26 – sweaty people and drop them into that, and they’ve got oils on their skin, etcetera, they immediately react with the chlorine and the chlorine almost basically all converts over to chloramines. So then we have to add more chlorine, the system does that, then the chlorine levels come up… As a result that hot tub tends to give off the most chloramines.”
Stephen Hanus, manager of facilities for the Town, explained to the Outlook in January how the chemicals in the pool create chloramines, which are a mixture of chlorine and ammonia and have been linked to respiratory tract damage and eye irritation.
“The chemicals in the pool react with organics, chemical reactions do occur and they do off gas, those translated to what’s called chloramines," he said.
Younker said his team is working on reducing the residual chlorine requirement, which should help manage chlorine levels across all three pools.
“The main thing we’ve been doing there is we’ve been using a different chemical other than chlorine, so this was recommended by one of the pool chemistry consultants who we brought in,” said Younker.
“It’s a disinfectant but’s it’s non-chlorine so it doesn’t produce those chloramines. We’ve been working on trying to get the right level on that. The problem is until you put people in, you can’t test it.”
Younker said the air testing over the last few weeks was getting better and better, so they opened up the pool slowly. However, after the hot tub opened, the air quality test indicated chloramine levels had jumped up again.
“More importantly, on Thursday, our staff started to complain about symptoms again, tightness in the chest, coughing, eye irritation, so that’s when we decided we have to shut the pool down again. We’ve adjusted this chemical in the hot tub and had another air test done Monday (Feb. 10),” he said.
“Because it’s both a public service issue and an occupational health and safety issue, we’re not prepared to allow our staff to go back on the deck for a day without knowing we have a clean air sample that meets all our requirements. In that is a time delay. We’re assuming we’ll get a clear indication either late Tuesday (Feb. 11) or early Wednesday (Feb. 12).”
The facility encouraged its staff to get medical attention to ensure the issue wasn’t deeper in terms of health, but Younker said no serious injuries have resulted since the air quality issues have spiked.
“We have encouraged staff on certain occasions to seek medical attention just to make sure there wasn’t more to it, and we have filed incident reports with occupation health and safety,” he said.
“They came in, did a review of all our information, policies, procedures and interviews staff. They left satisfied that we’ve been responsible and followed all the protocols. We’ve also had discussions with workers compensation board.”
Permanent staff is still being paid at this time, and as Younker explains, the facility has taken a bit of revenue hit.
“There’s a revenue hit, both the loss of our day-to-day drop in swimmers, we’ve put memberships on hold… so there is a financial aspect to that – revenue foregone. On our programming side, whether it’s swim lessons where we’re not cutting short the duration of those programs – there are rebates and credits for that. Groups, schools that come here and swim, all of that.”
However, for Elevation Place employees, the health and safety of their staff and patrons is paramount.
“It’s been a big disruption,” he said.
“I think it’s important that the safety of our staff and our clients is our number one priority.”
Visit https://canmore.ca/elevationplace for more updates on Elevation Place’s aquatic centre.