Pleasant Prairie pool health complaints; exhaust fans partially to blame, director says

The Pleasant Prairie pool where Wisconsin state championship swimmers got sick now partially blames broken exhaust fans.

Earlier this week, swimmers and families told FOX6 News about coughing, trouble breathing, throwing up, itchy skin and red eyes.

Now, a Pleasant Prairie RecPlex director says they found on Monday that two of six fans failed. Brett Christopher, Director of Recreation Programming, admitted the failure contributed to poor air quality. He added it was intensified by the large numbers of people at the Wisconsin Swimming state championship for ages 11-14, which took place this past weekend.

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One swimmer said she got so sick Saturday, she did not finish the finals on Sunday.

"It’s not fair to anyone to have to experience this. I just want everyone to not be in the same situation that the kids this year were put in, because It’s awful," said swimmer Abby Bowker. "You train all season, and put so much time and effort, money and everything put into this, and to get that outcome for this, it’s not fair to anyone."

The RecPlex now says the HVAC equipment is working, and air quality has returned to normal.

Investigating the cause

Air quality worries at the venue were already discussed before the meet. In a Feb. 8 meeting of Wisconsin Swimming’s Coaches Advisory Council, coaches discussed changes to this very meet that were meant to spread swimmers out throughout the weekend. The meeting minutes explained: "Timeline is not a concern. The number of bodies on deck for air quality is a concern."

In the wake of the complaints about sickness at the state championship, the meet's organizer, Wisconsin Swimming, pointed to the size of the competition. In a statement, the group said the meet had 711 athletes, which the group said was well above the anticipated estimate.

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Besides the size of the meet, Wisconsin Swimming's statement discussed pee in the pool: "Prior to the meet, Wisconsin Swimming did request the coaches to remind their athletes to NOT urinate in the pool and to rinse off as much as possible. This is a best practice the Wisconsin Swimming strongly advocates for all its athletes."

So, why discuss the size of the meet, as well as urine in the pool?

Joseph Clark, PhD, a Marquette University chemistry professor, said chlorine reacts with urea in urine to create irritants like trichloramine and dichloramine. In addition, these "disinfection by-products" can come when the chlorine reacts with dirt, sweat, or lotions. He said in higher concentrations, this can cause the problems kids and parents reported.

Swimmers said it is true some competitors do urinate in the pool. They point out some racing suits are very difficult to put on, and can take as long as 45 minutes to don. 

FOX6 reviewed the swimming pool logs for the host of the competition, which included every day in February and March. Chlorine readings ranged from 2 to 4 parts per million. That's considered the ideal range, and well within the statutory limits of Wisconsin state law, which is 10 ppm.

In addition, on March 6, Carrico Aquatic Resources reported downloading data from the pool's chemical controller, which gathered numbers every two minutes all day March 3 through noon on March 6. 

"During this time we did not see any anomalies that would indicate a dramatic change in ORP, chlorine, pH, temperature, or flow rate of the water itself," the document stated. "The highest chlorine reading happened in the afternoon of each day. At this time the chlorine in the water went from 2.0 ppm to 4.2 ppm. While reviewing this with the security camera footage these spikes happened at times when the pool was empty."

The RecPlex pool's PH, as found in those daily logs from February and March, including the days of the competition, showed either 7.4 or 7.5, which is considered the ideal range. One day, Feb. 7, the recorded number dipped outside that range with a PH of 7.3, according to the logs.