Pool Project

In search of safer swimming

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Full disclosure: I’ve seen Molly Monahan in a bathing suit.

On a recent visit to Hawaii, Monahan, 64, was among a posse of vacationers sharing living space at a remote property on the Big Island. I joined her for a couple of snorkeling sojourns to nearby tidal pools, and can attest to the fact that, if humans had gills, Monahan would probably choose to live in the water.

Back on the mainland, Monahan reached out to me about her efforts to work with the Whatcom Family YMCA in downtown Bellingham to make their indoor swimming pool less dependent on harsh chemicals. The only saline pools in town, she says, are in hotels and aren’t accessible to the general public.

“I have always enjoyed swimming,” Monahan says. “The older I get, the more it has become the only pain-free way for me to get some exercise. Unfortunately, I have also developed chemical sensitivities and chlorine is at the top of my list of triggers—more specifically the chloramines, the resulting compound freed up when chlorine is used.”

“Molly came to me with a proposition,” YMCA Executive Director Bill Ziels says. “‘Can the Y please look at the latest technologies in pool sanitation so that I can again swim for exercise without the side effects from chlorine?’ I decided to take on her challenge.”

After studying multiple new treatment systems to retrofit the pool and the ventilation system, the Y determined the best way to improve the water and air quality, reduce chemical usage and the smell of chlorine, and render 99.99 percent of bacteria harmless would be to transition to UV treatment—something YMCAs across the country are doing in increasing numbers.

According to Ziels, the biggest benefit of using ultraviolet light is that it has a photo-oxidation effect that destroys chloramines and other toxic byproducts of chlorine without adding any further chemicals to the water. Because less chlorine needs to be used to provide bacterial control, water quality and atmospheric conditions are considerably approved.

With the Y’s blessing and support from Mayor Kelli Linville, Monahan has been leading a Pool Conversion Task Force since January to raise the $34,000 necessary to make the improvements. If you’re somebody with chemical sensitivities, or simply want to swim in a pool with less chlorine in it, it might be time to consider making a tax-deductible donation to the cause.

“The project includes both the installation of the UV system and an upgrade of the air-filtration system,” Monahan says. “The work could be completed in just days once we have the funds.”

When that happens, Monahan says, she can see herself swimming at the Y pool at least three times a week—possibly more.

“Fingers crossed,” she adds.

To make a donation, go to http://www.whatcomymca.org/donate. Be sure and select the Bellingham YMCA Pool Retrofit Project.

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