Air and Water Qualms at RECenter Pool

More swimmers may mean coughing, rashes
The director of the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter said recently that because of heavy pool use upgrades to the facility’s water filtration and ventilation should be undertaken. Jack Graves

    Heavy use of the swimming pools at the Y.M.CA. East Hampton RECenter is adversely affecting air quality there, necessitating an upgrade to the center’s ventilation, heating, and air-conditioning systems, according to its director.
    The RECenter’s lap and training pools are used by up to 300 people per day, said Juan Castro, the director. This includes both residents and swimming teams from the RECenter and East Hampton High School.
    “This pool and facility is heavily used, and at the level we’re experiencing now, we may have to add a secondary system to help with the air quality,” said Mr. Castro. The problem is worse in the winter, he said, when cold weather reduces ventilation. “It occurs with significant bather-load increases.”
    The pool’s water quality poses no health hazard, Mr. Castro insisted. The Suffolk County Department of Health has visited twice in the last month, he said, but it does not test the air quality. “They check water-quality procedures. They also responded to the fact that there may be some air-quality issues, but we meet the standards of the Health Department.” A consultant will test the air in the pool areas soon, he said, a process that will take two weeks.
    An engineer will also inspect the facility’s heating and ventilation system to determine if it should be modified. “Nobody is saying we can’t improve air quality. We may have to adapt our current system to meet the demands of increased participation,” said Mr. Castro.
    Xiaoyu Chen, the county’s assistant public health engineer, declined to talk about the RECenter except to say that “we didn’t find any public health hazard.” But reports from swimmers of breathing difficulties, diarrhea, coughing fits, and skin rashes have some people concerned.
    East Hampton Village leases the property on which the RECenter is situated to East Hampton Town, which in turn licenses the center to the Young Men’s Christian Association of Long Island. A five-year license renewal is set to take effect on Jan. 1. Under terms of the agreement, the town makes an annual payment of $590,000 to the Y.M.C.A. The town is also responsible for the cost of capital repairs, including “replacement of the roof, boilers, electrical lighting system, HVAC system, pool and pool pumps, etc.,” according to the agreement.
    The RECenter’s original design capacity will not support the present level of use, said Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione, who agreed with Mr. Castro that air quality worsens in the winter. “Once you get into the off-season and everything is buttoned up, that puts more pressure on the ventilation. But I have to go with Juan and say there’s some analysis that needs to be done on that. As far as requests to upgrade the chlorination system, I think it’s about $20,000 of requests for that. The balance of it probably has to be more, and they’re looking for professional analysis on that.”
    The town board will have to review the request, said Mr. Stanzione, but he expects the board to agree to capital improvements. “Those who say that’s a significant contribution by the taxpayers to the operations of that facility, you’d have to agree with that. But lease terms are lease terms, and we have to live by those. They’ve made a request that seems reasonable, and we’ll bring it to the board and act on it.” The board’s next work session is on Jan. 8.
    Steve Kenney, who owns SRK Pools, a Wainscott-based company that constructs, services, and maintains residential swimming pools, said the RECenter has long been operating in a negligent and even dangerous fashion. Mr. Kenney said in an interview that his children experienced severe coughing fits, stomach pain, and diarrhea after swimming there, and that other bathers, including RECenter swim instructors, have reported similar symptoms as well as skin irritation. These symptoms, he said, are indicative of waterborne pathogens that the RECenter is not controlling.
    Chlorine-based disinfectants have long been the most popular treatment to kill pathogens in swimming pools. But when chlorine bonds with ammonia that is excreted from the body via perspiration or other fluids, a byproduct, chloramine, is formed. Exposure to chloramine gas can contribute to respiratory problems.
    An extreme chloramine level at the RECenter, Mr. Kenney maintained, is responsible for the symptoms he described. “That’s going to make your eyes burn and your lungs tighten up, and it’s going to irritate your skin,” he said. The chlorine-ammonia bond, he said, has to be broken so that chlorine is free to fight bacteria. Oxidizing the bond is accomplished by adding more chlorine, a process known as shock chlorination, or through ozone or ultraviolet-based treatment systems.
    Poor air quality at the pools, said Mr. Kenney, is the result of poor water treatment. Compounding the problem, he said, is the swimming pool industry’s over-reliance on chlorine, from which some pathogens are now immune. Among these are cryptosporidium, which has sickened bathers at pools around the country and the world. Cryptosporidium infection, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or abdominal cramps, is most dangerous to elderly and young bathers and those with compromised immune systems. Only an ozone or utraviolet-based treatment system, said Mr. Kenney, will kill cryptosporidium and other chlorine-resistant pathogens.
    Mr. Kenney said he had suggested treatment systems to RECenter officials several times, and acknowledged the appearance of a conflict of interest. But he insisted that he was motivated simply by the wish that all children be able to use the pools safely. He forwarded to The East Hampton Star an e-mail from an instructor at the center that attributed adverse health effects to the pools, mentioned a relative who complained of symptoms after swimming, and described frustration with a management that has ignored complaints.
    “Every instructor I’ve spoken to there — and I’ve spoken to about six over the past eight years — said, ‘You’ve got to do something, I can’t teach here anymore,’ ” said Mr. Kenney.
    The author of the e-mail declined to speak on the record. Neither Tom Cohill, aquatics director at the RECenter, nor Joseph Vasile-Cozzo, East Hampton High School’s athletic director, had responded to multiple calls as of Monday.
    Mr. Castro said Mr. Kenney’s accusations were misguided as well as inaccurate. “This is the first time we’ve had these kinds of claims,” he said. “You have individuals that want to sell us something, and what they’re selling is supposedly going to fix our problem. I have 300 people in there every day, and I’m not having a mass of people breaking out. To the Health Department, we manage it within acceptable limits.”
    The RECenter is in the midst of upgrading its water-treatment systems, said Mr. Castro, and its request to the town for capital improvements is part of that effort. “But before you jump to conclusions, you’ve got to do due diligence,” he said. “We should not make this more complicated than it is. Can we improve things? Absolutely. Are we operating an unsafe facility? No.”


Mr. Castro, by most accounts, a good manager, Mentions that his capital improvement request to the Town, includes upgrades to the water treatment system. He further states that this issue should not be made more complicated than it is. His interview with the paper, and a local Pool company has resulted in the opposite. Is there a water quality, air quality, or space issue at the YMCA ? Readers certainly will not know. Maybe the Facility needs upgrades and improvements to meet the use level and that's it.
The pool is having unprecedented effects on the individuals who swim there..especially the swim team! The kids who are swimming there four or more times a week...look around many of kids on the swim team are on inhalants! Why are the parents still sending their kids to a pool knowing that the water is not filtrated well enough, and people are getting sick! I understand the kids are good and love to swim, but why are you putting your kids in danger? It is beyond me, but i would rather have my child cry, kick and scream, than to have them swim in that water! You are decreasing their quality of life each time they swim! They will get over it..but for the mean are signing their death warrants..who knows what kind of long lasting damage is being done? and the the people on the board will continue to jerk the public around until the parents, of the kids who swim, anyone for that matter, get their act together and talk to a lawyer! May be then will the village, and those who are in charge will get the message. This situation is screaming class action law suit! Why aren't people fired up about this? Signed..Extremely Concerned!
Juan Castro's facts are not all correct and sound extremely political and misleading. Many that know me will agree that I care more about healthy and safe water for my kids and the public than I do money; I am not an opportunist. I have provided the Y in 2003, 2008 and 2012 estimates from my vendors for Ozone and UV at my cost to help get this much needed system installed, contrary to Mr. Castro's comments in this article regarding my desire to sell them something. I am not and have never been interested in profiting from this transaction and find that this is a political attempt once again to avoid responsibility. I have a lot of experience and training in this field and spend a lot of my time protecting my clients from parasites and germs such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, noroviurs and e. coli that have become immune to the traditional chlorine treatment and I find it extremely frustrating to me that I can’t even protect my own children from this harm when I know exactly what to do. This is the first time in the past 10 years that I have allowed my own children to take swim lessons and swim on the swim team and I have seen 1st hand what happens when they use the pools; this has become extremely personal. My facts are extremely accurate and are based on the recommendations by the Center of Disease Control and the World Health Organization regarding the treatment of chloramines and pathogens. All municipal pools need to take this to the next level as the common complaint for the past 10 years in our country is that indoor pools have a strong chlorine smell that people usually associate with chlorine; when in fact it is the by-product Chloramines creating - red, burning eyes - burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs - dry, itchy skin, and dry hair - breathing difficulty leading to "swimmers asthma", particularly in young children are all problems that are associated with the old ways and techniques of pool water treatment. If you purify the water you also purify the air. With increased bather load put on this facility they will need to accept the facts recommended by the Model Aquatic Health Code by the CDC and The World Health Organization and install secondary disinfectants units such as Ozone or UV to help destroy the chloramines and at the same time provide treatment and protection against chlorine resistant pathogens such as Cryptosporidium ("Crypto"). Bad water equals bad air; the more you use the pool the more ammonia is excreted from the body bonding with the chlorine causing the chloramines and that is what smells not the chlorine. To find out more see links below: Recreational Water Illnesses. RWIs) We all need to be concerned about this as our local Health Dept does not provide Biological testing and it seems that somebody needs to become extremely ill before anybody will take action; are our kids the Biological test kits? See the article by Yale Daily News: Yale University 2006
I would love to send my children to the Y to enjoy the benefits of swimming: however, i feel the risks outweigh the benefits. My kids have experienced respiratory, stomach, and skin problems after swimming at the YMCA pool . People believe they are doing something healthy and beneficial for their children by letting them swim in the pool, but it sounds like they doing something completely opposite from their original good intent.
We are collecting signatures of people that have or had adverse health effects from swimming at the East Hampton YMCA, NY. We have a Petition started by concerned parents of East Hampton that have children who have or are getting sick by the use of the pools at the YMCA East Hampton. We have been told that our children are just sensitive to the water and nothing is wrong. As concerned parents and for public health reasons, we would like to see this corrected before somebody becomes seriously ill.