The healthy swimming pool

Photo: Ferkuniak

Nothing refreshes on a hot day like a dip in the pool but chlorine may be ruining our summer fun. Taking a dip in your backyard pool doesn't have to be harmful to your health. Thanks to new innovations (and a surge in popularity of older but little-known methods), keeping your pool water clean and algae-free no longer involves large amounts of poisonous chemicals. It can be confusing to find the right product but dive into our quick guide and find a system that works for you.

Chlorine not a good option

Everyone is familiar with the taste and smell of chlorinated water and how it irritates the eyes and skin. Classified by the EPA as a pesticide, chlorine has been linked to asthma, lung damage, allergies, and even stomach cancer. It's also one of the ingredients in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), responsible for ozone depletion. Since we tend to absorb the largest amount of chlorine in pools, many places are starting to look at replacing chlorine. Belgium has actually banned it from all public pools.

"The demand for alternative products has increased significantly," said Kelly Brattain of Natural Chemistry Canada. "In swimming pools, where kids are often swallowing water, parents want that water to be safer." Established in 1989, Natural Chemistry offers a variety of alternative pool and hot tub cleaning products that break down organic compounds, rid the water of phosphates that lead to algae growth, make the water clear, and restore salt and mineral levels that enable chlorine to work more efficiently.

Salt water systems, like AquaPure, use salt to keep the water clean. Salt is turned into small amounts of chlorine to clean the water and then cycled back through the system where its converted back to salt. The water is soft and gentle for the chlorine-sensitive swimmers. The drawback is the initial learning curve to get the pH levels properly adjusted.

BioGuard has developed ABC Softswim to be a once-a-week, three-step program that handles all the problem areas in a pool. Softswim A uses an algicide made from a quaternary ammonia that controls the growth of algae. Softswim B control bacteria levels using Biguanide and Softswim C uses Hydrogen Peroxide. Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) is an unstable form of water with an extra oxygen molecule. When it comes in contact with water, that extra oxygen molecule breaks away and becomes a strong disinfecting agent, so much so that the FDA has approved it use in the food industry.

In the U.S. copper-silver ionization is a popular alternative. Electrically charged positive copper ions seek out negatively charged bacteria, viruses and fungi, opening up a channel for silver ions to enter the microrganism, eventually killing it. You need a separate sanitation system to use this method and another disinfectant, such as ozone or hydrogen peroxide should be added.

Chlorfree Ionizing Capsules are submersible capsules filled with copper, zinc, palladium, silver and carbon. When these minerals are exposed to water, they create an ionization effect eliminating bacteria, algae, microbes, and other organisms. Since no additional filters are used, this system used less energy consumption. Chlorfree can reduce chlorine dependency by as much as 85 percent.

Ozone generators, like Del Ozone attach to an existing pool filtration system to pump ozone gas into the water. This active form of oxygen neutralizes bacteria, viruses, algae and other impurities in the same way as chlorine does. This system still needs a low residural level of cholrine to be effective, which translates into 80 percent less chlorine. The two basic types of ozone generators are ultraviolet (UV) using fluorescent lights and corona discharge using an electrical arc inside a generator.

In Europe, the natural swimming pool is gaining popularity. Using plants and micro-organisms, this system mimics the eco-system found in ponds, pools and lakes. Since the water remains clear but is not sterile, it's able to create the normal range of pond life and becomes self-cleaning. Initially more expensive to build, natural swimming pools save money in the long run since no chemicals or filters are needed.