Safer Chemicals > Pools

Collegiate athletics and recreation departments are using a variety of strategies to improve the environmental performance of swimming pool operations within athletics and recreation facilities. The two primary opportunities to save resources and minimize environmental impact relate to reduced chemical use and energy efficiency.


Innovative swimming pool disinfection systems, such as ultraviolet treatment and moss systems, are helping to provide a healthier workout environment for student-athletes and other swimmers. These systems can reduce the amount of chlorine needed to maintain athletic pools significantly, leading to better indoor air quality and water quality in aquatic centers. A healthier workout environment for student-athletes and other pool users can lead to lower incidence of respiratory illness and better performance.


In 2011, the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation installed an ultraviolet (UV) pool disinfection system. The UV system has reduced the concentration of chlorine in their pools by approximately 50 percent.

“It has dramatically improved the air and water quality and directly benefits the health of our athletes,” says Dan Schupsky, assistant swim coach, pool facilities manager and coordinator of Penn’s Athletics Eco-Reps team. “We’ve seen a marked decline in respiratory health issues among our swimmers since decreasing the chlorine concentration. It directly benefits our varsity athletes’ ability to train at a high aerobic level as healthier athletes allows for more consistent training and better results in the long-term. And it’s no surprise the UV system is a great draw during recruiting—parents and athletes ask about the indoor air and water quality of our facility all the time.”


University of Maryland’s Eppley Recreation Center features an instructional pool and competition pool. Since 2011, the staff have used sphagnum moss, imported from New Zealand, to filter and clean the water using less chlorine. Each pool has a surge tank with a pump that keeps water flowing through the tank, allowing the moss to filter the water. Sphagnum moss releases pH buffers that make water more resistant to changes in acidity. This makes it easier to keep a pool’s pH between 7.2 and 7.4, the range in which chlorine is most effective as a sanitizer.

“We had some patrons that said it’s less harsh on their skin, on their hair,” says University of Maryland’s Campus Recreation Services pool operations manager Matthew Quigley. “We had the swim team, which spent five to six hours a day in the pool — they really liked it,” he said. We also had water polo. … They said they could breathe easier.”

CRS received a grant for more than $64,000 for the 2010-11 academic year from the University Sustainability Fund so it could set up the moss filtration system. The moss costs about $40,000 per year and reduces spending on chemicals by about $38,000 — a good investment, Quigley says. Creative Water Solutions, the school’s Minnesota-based supplier, sends the university a year’s worth of moss at a time. The 1.2 million-gallon competition pool requires 47 bags of moss, and the outdoor recreational pool takes 14. Overall, staff use about 84 bags at a time.


Athletics and recreation departments are also using innovative strategies to save energy and money when heating their pools. Some of the energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies they use include pool covers (to reduce heat loss), variable frequency drives, cogeneration, and thermal solar panels.


The commitment to sustainability by Harvard UniversityAthletics includes installing a cogeneration unit to heat water used in the pool and for showers at the Malkin Athletics Center complex. The cogeneration unit generates heat and electricity from a single power source, avoiding the production of 197 tons of greenhouse gases annually. “We have also installed multiple variable frequency drives in our sports facilities, including on our hot water and pool pumps,” says Jason Waldron, assistant manager of operations for Harvard Athletics. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

In 2007, San Diego State University (SDSU) and UC San Diego (UCSD)collaborated to install 5,000 square feet of thermal solar panels atop their co-owned Mission Bay Aquatic Center (MBAC) to heat the facility’s 50-meter pool. The panels cost approximately $100,000 and paid for themselves in energy savings in two years. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

Starting in 2006, Santa Clara Universityused its 45,000-square-foot Malley Fitness and Recreation Center to test new sustainability-related equipment. This included pool tarps that minimize heat-loss, saving energy and reducing heating costs. To learn more, read the full feature in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

In 2010, the University of Arizonabuilt the first university recreation center in the United States to be awarded LEED Platinum certification. This facility is also the first in the nation to use solar energy for both heating the Olympic-size pool and cooling the building’s chiller systems. The 346-vacuum-tube thermal solar collector spans the facility’s roof and produces almost 2 million kilowatt-hours of solar power each year. The solar energy drives an absorption chilling system that helps cool campus buildings. Heat, a by-product of this process, is captured and used to warm the Recreation Center’s 55,000-gallon Olympic-size swimming pool. The thermal solar array provides one-third of the energy needed to heat the pool. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s Recreation Center expansion uses a variety of strategies to implement net-zero energy use while meeting university-wide sustainable building goals and reducing operating costs. A “net-zero energy” building has zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions (referring only to the carbon emissions associated with energy needed to operate the facility). For example, the building reuses waste heat from the ice rink to heat the indoor pools and other areas of the building, further reducing the building’s energy demand and annual operating costs. To learn more, read the full case study in the NRDC Collegiate Game Changers report.


Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group: Ultraviolet Radiation

Pool & Spa News: Shining a Light on UV

Cleaner Pools: UV Swimming Pools Treatment Benefits

Environmental Resource Center for Higher Education: Clean Air Act

EPA – IAQ Building Education and Assessment Model (I-BEAM)

ASHRAE Indoor Air Quality Guide

EBOM-2009: IAQ Best Management Practices—IAQ Management Program

EPA – Building Air Quality Guide for Facility Managers

EPA – Building Air Quality Action Plan

OSHA – Indoor Air Quality

American Lung Association – Indoor Air Quality

EPA – Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines: Suppliers Database

Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers