With the warmer months of the year approaching, the once underutilized pool is now receiving attention by swimsuit-clad students looking for a way to keep cool. However, those who enter the water eager to have fun are also later questioning what exactly their bodies have been submerged in for hours. Many are concerned with just how clean a small body of water shared by one student body can really be.
“The hot tub […] was so full of stuff like leaves and also hair which was extra gross to me,” first-year Liliana Solomon said.
Typically, the pool and hot tub are cleaned by the custodial staff. Before the pool can be opened for the day, lifeguards are responsible for ensuring that the pool and hot tub follow health guidelines.
“[Lifeguards] test the chlorine and pH and if it doesn’t meet standards then we close it,” thesis-student Megan Farley, who is a Fitness Center staff member and part-time lifeguard for the pool, said.
The pool and hot tub are monitored every four hours by the lifeguard staff. This process involves using a canister that is dipped into the water and then tested to indicate the pH level and chlorine present. Anything outside of what is considered by the state to be a normal range would legally require that the pool and hot tub be closed. In addition, any sort of bodily fluid such as blood, feces, or vomit would also cause the pool to be closed until it is cleaned.
The hot tub, on account of its size and temperature, is also more likely to be shut down. Due to its small size, it is easier for there to be a chemical imbalance since it can become crowded quicker with less people than it would take to crowd the pool. A maximum number of nine people are allowed in the hot tub at any given time.
“Sometimes a bunch of people will jump in,” Fitness Center Director Colin Jordan said. “And what happens is that [the hot tub] is controlled by computer and the chlorine demand starts to go up beyond what the limit is and then it can’t keep up and will just shut off entirely. Because the chlorine shuts off and you’ve got that many people there who are shedding bacteria, it essentially turns into a giant petri dish.”
There are currently 10 times more bacteria cells in the human body than there are human cells. The bacteria can exist inside the body, waiting to be expelled and transferred, or can already exist in colonies on the skin.
Once the pH balance has been thrown off, it can take until the next day for the balance to be restored in the hot tub.
Part of the hygiene problem can be explained by the influx of those who are now frequenting the pool and hot tub more often.
“No one would come here before,” Farley said.
The previous smaller number of visitors meant that there was less demand to clean. Any issues with the cleanliness of the water could also be chalked up to the staff adjusting to a larger amount of visitors.
“They hadn’t cleaned [the pool and hot tub] out because not very many people were using the pool,” second-year and Head Lifeguard Evan Murphy said. “It was that time of the year when leaves were just falling in.” Murphy was the one who suggested that it might have been an appropriate time to clean the leaves out of the pool.
Although not directly responsible for manually cleaning the pool, one of the regular duties of the lifeguards includes cleaning the pool deck and assigning areas to sweep when there is pollen at the bottom of the pool floor. However, lifeguards are responsible for the maintenance of the pool and the hot tub while on duty.
“If I see leaves in the hot tub, I’ll go in there with a scoop or something and get it all out,” Murphy said.
There is no strict cleaning schedule for the pool or hot tub. Instead, they are cleaned when the Fitness Center staff deems it to be the appropriate time. Jordan said that the pool is usually cleaned every week. Yet, he also stated that the hot tub is cleaned “as needed.”
“For the most part there is no set amount of cleaning, just give or take based on what time of the year and what it looks like,” Murphy said. “Pool cleaning is an interesting thing, it just depends what you’re talking about. When we see something or we hear a complaint or something like that, we bring it up and pass it along to Colin [Jordan] who ultimately is in charge of taking care of stuff like that.”
There is more than one cleaning process that both the hot tub and pool undergo. One of these processes involves the use of a vacuum to collect leaves that have fallen to the bottom of the pool. Another more aggressive approach involves the use of chemicals to kill bacteria.
The chemicals used in the hot tub and pool include acid to balance the pH level, and chlorine as a disinfectant.
Another possible explanation for concerns over the cleanliness of the pool and hot tub could be due to a recent clog that kept the staff from being able to vacuum the area. “We had some sort of clog in the vacuum system,” Jordan said. “And we weren’t able to vacuum for a couple weeks.”
An excess of leaves from the oak trees that surround the pool and hot tub area caused the clog. “We can have [the trees] trimmed, but have been historically restricted from trimming them back very far,” Jordan said. “The result is that when the trees shed their leaves, many go into the pool and cause a problem for a while keeping up with cleaning. We also get a lot of pollen on the water at certain times of the year. It just so happened that this year they clogged the vacuum system, and so the problem was compounded.”
When asked whether leaks and clogs are a common problem, Jordan explained that this is an inevitable reality when dealing with such a small campus and limited staff.
“This is the headache and expense that goes along with having a big pool in a small campus,” Jordan said. “[The hot tub] is a very dynamic body of water because it’s small and it’s warm and so you run into that kind of thing quite a bit. The pool is more stable but the pool is large and when you run into problems with it, usually it’s something like this.”
Jordan stated there is a greater need for students to voice their opinions about the pool and hot tub. “If there are complaints, I think the tendency is kind of to complain to one another,” Jordan said. “The proper person to complain to would be me. If I don’t know about something, I can’t take care of it.”
Currently, the pool is closed due to a broken light fixture, a safety hazard for those who want to do more than just sunbathe.
Information for this article was taken from scientificamerican.com