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Muddying the waters: an aquatics director with a big event in the balance tries a new procedure--and creates big problems.

Twenty years ago, Tom, an eager aquatics director at a major university, took his first Aquatic Facility Operator Course. The class was being offered in conjunction with the National Aquatic Management School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. In preparation, he read the entire AFO manual even before leaving Pennsylvania.

He was intrigued by many of the ideas and suggestions, but one in particular stuck out: The section that talked about adding granular activated carbon to the top of the filter bed to "sweeten and clarify" the water as well as reduce chloramines.

Tom saw an opportunity. His facility was to host the Boys and Girls State High School Swimming Championships, a three-day event with thousands of participants. Tom referred to it as the "salmon run," and water quality usually suffered toward the end of the event. Unfortunately, he was heading out town for the AFO, so he wouldn't be able to see the carbon in action. But before leaving, he gave strict instructions to his pool operators on the procedure.

Upon arriving in Fort Lauderdale, Tom was exhausted. As he entered his hotel room, he noticed the message light flashing. At first he thought it was from the concierge, welcoming him to the hotel. But when he pressed the message button, he got some very unwelcome news.

Apparently, after Tom's departure, the operators poured granular activated carbon on top of the filter beds as instructed. Excited to see the results, they left the filter room and went upstairs to look at the competition pool. To their horror, it looked as if 24 tractor-trailers had their exhausts hooked up to the return lines. Jet-black charcoal was pouring into the pool from each of the inlets. Within a matter of minutes, the pool was completely black. Considering the swim meet was to begin in three days, you can imagine how the staff members' stomachs were churning!

The only option was to dump the entire pool, clean, refill and reheat prior to the event. Fortunately, as the well water entered their facility, it went through a separate cartridge filtration system, which made the water sparkle well before it hit the filtration system. When the competition began three days later, the water was clear and things went off without a hitch.

Upon his return from the AFO class, Tom learned that not only were the pool filters undersized, but they were channeling (which allowed the charcoal to get back into the pool).

As for the poor advice regarding the carbon "trick," it was quickly removed from successive copies of the AFO manual. Granular activated carbon is still routinely used in Germany, as well as a handful of public pools around the United States. The carbon is placed in a separate tank, however, in series with the sand filters. This final stage of water stripping also removes all chlorine, so rechlorination injection must follow as the water returns to the pool.

The Lessons

1 Inspect filters annually. An inspection will identify any channeling or other maintenance issues that need to rectified to ensure proper filtration.

2 Make sure filters are sized properly for your facility. If you have incorrectly sized filters, the water clarity and quality can be jeopardized.

3 Be on site for new procedures. Though you may have well-trained employees, you might want to reconsider experimenting with new procedures when you're out of town. Fortunately, Tom's staff handled the situation during his absence, but this could have been a disaster without qualified, intelligent personnel.


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Title Annotation:LESSONS LEARNED
Author:Aranda, Mary; Dittmar, Tina
Publication:Aquatics International
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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