Maine South swimmers say high school pool is making them sick

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Members of the Maine South swim team said their breathing problems are so severe they had to move their practices to another school. (WLS)

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
Swimmers at a northwest suburban high school say they're getting sick and can't breathe after being in their school pool.

Members of the Maine South High School swim team said their breathing problems are so severe that they had to go to the doctor and move their practices to another school. They contacted the I-Team for help.

"I was worried about my health and the health of some of the other swimmers," said swimmer Robert Reinhard.

Reinhard and fellow Maine South swimmer Zach Clauss are taking a stand, saying they and other swim team members are having serious breathing problems.

"Chest pain, an inability to breathe and coughing to the point where I was throwing up in my mouth during practice," Reinhard said.

Clauss added: "During practice I have trouble breathing and then I started to notice that even after practice I would have trouble taking deep breaths. That's really concerning to me because I have a younger brother on the team and I don't want anything bad happening to him."

The breathing problems got so bad that they brought their concerns to the school board after alerting coaches and school administration.

Swimmers said the pool issue has been a problem at the Maine South for years. And despite air quality tests five years ago, the problem persists.

Angela Carson's son developed a nasty cough.

"It just got worse and worse, where it was overnight, the longer he swam, the more the struggle," Carson said.

Environmental experts, Sam Dorevitch, a University of Illinois-Chicago professor, said the most likely cause of this problem at an indoor pool is a chemical called chloramines.

Chloramines form when pool chlorine combines with sweat, hair and urine in the pool and causes big problems.

"It probably is happening in many pools, many indoor pools, including hotel pools, school pools, other indoor pools," Dorevitch said.

David Beery, a spokesman for Maine Township High School District 207, said: "We certainly take the concerns seriously, our response has to be informed and guided by inspections and tests and facts and data, and at this point, the facts and the data that we have in hand all indicate that there are no issues or problems with the pool or its operation."

School officials allow gym classes and the YMCA to continue using the pool.

District officials conducted several days of pool air quality tests.

On day one, results showed there were no problems.

However, the I-Team has learned that samples from the next two days of testing reveal unsafe levels.

Of 25 samples, three tests showed chloramine levels too high, and three additional tests showed levels nearly greater than what federal health authorities recommend.

Despite these findings, district officials said Monday that vast majority of readings are well within the limits and the ranges that would indicate a healthy pool environment, therefore they are letting the swim team decide whether to return to the pool.

"This is not about kids not being in good shape, these are elite swimmers who often get asthma because of long-term exposure to high level of chloramines," said Dorevitch. "It's a little bit like coaches telling kids oh it's just a concussion, rest for a few minutes and get back on the field, we now know that that's bad advice."

"This is a problem and people need to realize that this is really dangerous and potentially life altering," said Clauss, the swimmer. "I hope that they won't just brush it under the rug."

District officials said they are trying to maintain lower chloramine levels by installing new signs stressing personal hygiene and working with their pool chemical supplier to lower chemical levels. They added that they plan to evaluate their pool filters and hire a firm to design a new ventilation system for the pool.
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