Park board examines secondary disinfection systems for Vancouver's municipal pools
Like many local residents, Vision Vancouver park commissioner Trevor Loke likes to stay fit by going for a swim at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. But last winter, the 23-year-old politician noticed that the water was irritating his eyes, causing them to turn red. It led him to spend the next several months researching the effects of chlorine, which could lead to significant changes at some local pools.
“When chlorine interacts with sweat or some of that other nasty stuff in the pool, it produces a byproduct, chloramine, which is actually the irritant,” Loke explained to the Georgia Straight by phone.
The B.C. Health Act requires a minimum chlorine level of 0.5 parts per million in pools. Chloramine has been identified as an irritant to the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. After Loke realized this, he said, he tried to think of ways to reduce the amount of chlorine in pools.
“That’s when I started learning about the secondary disinfection systems,” he stated.
A friend told him about ozone and ultraviolet technologies being used in Alabama to kill pathogens in pools. Ozone is a natural, noncarcinogenic sterilizer composed of three atoms of oxygen that leaves no chemical byproducts and does not irritate the eyes, skin, or nose. Ultraviolet technology destroys chloramines produced by the presence of chlorine.
Loke also recalled hearing that the City of Nanaimo was introducing a secondary disinfection system. In addition, the park board had already installed secondary disinfection systems at several pools: Renfrew, Hillcrest, Kensington, Templeton, and Killarney.
“I started speaking with our staff at the pools and realized that we didn’t actually have a district-wide policy over the capping of chlorine, which was in the pools,” he revealed.
He decided to talk to swimmers who use the Vancouver Aquatic Centre, which doesn’t have secondary disinfection in the pool, and at Hillcrest, which does. Everyone at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre reported experiencing red eyes.
At the July 9 park-board committee meeting, Loke introduced a motion calling upon the board to aim to provide secondary disinfection systems—using either ozone or ultraviolet technology—at all Vancouver pools, and limit chlorine to 1.5 parts per million.
It was approved unanimously after NPA commissioner John Coupar introduced an amendment asking staff to report back with the estimated costs prior to implementing any plan.
A member of the Coalition of Progressive Electors park committee, Raymond Tomlin, was the only person who spoke to the board about Loke’s motion. In the hall outside the boardroom, Tomlin told the Straight that he supports secondary disinfection systems in new pools. However, he questions the cost of retrofitting older pools with this technology, noting that the Lord Byng, Kerrisdale, and Vancouver Aquatic Centre pools are all due for renovations.
“There is to be new construction,” Tomlin stated. “To go in to spend the money that is to be spent on retrofitting is throwing good money after bad.”
In addition, Tomlin suggested that Loke’s motion didn’t come out of a public-consultation process.
Tomlin predicted that any expenditure by Vision Vancouver on retrofitting pools would come out of the board’s “emerging priorities” fund.
“The recommendation that COPE made at the meeting tonight is that they consult with the provincial government and meet with the Ministry of Health because this is a public-health initiative that they’re talking about,” he said. “See if the provincial government can get involved in the funding of the retrofitting and defray some of the costs that would be placed on the backs of Vancouver taxpayers.”
Moments later, Coupar told the Straight that he would like more information before approving any expenditures.
“The residents of Mount Pleasant have been advocating for an outdoor pool,” he said. “They were promised this and it hasn’t come forward. And cost has been a big issue. I’m really concerned about adding additional costs and perhaps making it more difficult to have outdoor pools.”
Loke told the Straight that park-board staff have told him that it would cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to install ozone disinfection at each pool, whereas the price of the ultraviolet technology is in the “thousands per system”. It’s the first motion that the rookie commissioner has drafted and presented on his own since being elected in November.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.