Great Water Quality: Gold for Olympian Swimmers

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Swimming is one of the most refreshingly beautiful Olympic events to watch. Thanks to modern communications technology, this summer we are treated to crystal-clear underwater images of the world’s elite swimmers as they vie for the Olympic gold.

Water plays a First Place role in the lives of professional swimmers: There is the water through which they swim and the water they must ingest to remain properly hydrated.

Swimming Pool Water Quality

The London Aquatics Centre houses two 50-meter swimming pools and a 25-meter diving pool. Altogether, the pools hold 2.6 million gallons of water (10 million liters). What technology is responsible for the sparkling water through which the athletes glide to glory or defeat? For one thing, pool water is circulated through efficient filtration systems. Additionally, water is treated with chemicals, including chlorine-based disinfectants to prevent swimmers becoming ill with diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and various skin infections that untreated water can transmit.

Chlorine-based disinfectants serve two purposes: They destroy algae and most waterborne germs, and they react with—oxidize—small bits of organic debris and impurities introduced into pool water by swimmers. Chlorine levels (usually 1 – 3 parts per million) are maintained in part by adjusting the pH, or acidity level of pool water. Pool operators maintain pool water pH in the slightly basic range of 7.2 to 7.8 in order to ensure good germ destruction by chlorine while keeping the water comfortable for swimmers.

Pool operators must carefully monitor pool water chemistry, as chlorine may be depleted by substances inadvertently added to the pool, including swimmer perspiration, body oils and urine (see Understanding Pool Chemistry).

Hydrating the Olympians

The athlete’s high daily intake of 4-6 liters of water per day makes safe drinking water an extremely important commodity for the professional swimmer. Water makes up over 50 percent of the weight of the human body. It lubricates and cushions the joints, serves as a “shock absorber” inside the eyes and spinal cord and regulates body temperature and blood volume. No athlete could reasonably compete without access to safe, life-sustaining water.

Before drinking water protections were perfected over a century ago, the population of London was regularly devastated by cholera outbreaks spread by contaminated water. Today, in that same city, thanks to appropriate watershed protection, water filtration and disinfection, Olympian swimmers soar through huge pools of clean municipal water. At the same time, athletes, visitors and residents of London alike enjoy the health-giving benefits of safe drinking water.

Kudos to the amazing swimming Olympians…and the abiding water quality technologies by which they, and we, thrive.