Berkeley High pool closes after tests reveal chemical imbalances

Anthony Bongco/Staff
Berkeley High School’s swimming pool was closed Wednesday due to evidence of chemical imbalances.

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After receiving reports of water polo players experiencing itchiness and discomfort after practice, the city of Berkeley temporarily closed Berkeley High School’s pool on Sept. 25 after tests showed chemical imbalances in the pool.

The school’s pool had a pH level of 8.4, whereas a healthy level must be between 7.2 and 8.0, according to a city inspection report. Currently, the school is testing the pool’s chemical levels three times daily, and the city will reopen the pool once it is deemed safe.

According to William Gaebler, the Berkeley High School water polo coach, chlorine levels were low, and the concentration of chloramine — the chemical that causes eye and skin irritation — was 10 times higher than the limit. A defective carbon dioxide tank, which lowers the pH level in the pool, caused the high pH level, he said.

“If those statements are true, it does raise concern,” said Tracy Hollander, president of the Berkeley PTA Council. “It speaks to student safety. We need to help ensure that students are safe, whether they are walking down a hall or in a pool.”

The school has ordered a $7,000 replacement carbon dioxide tank for the pool, which is expected to arrive within the week, according to Mark Coplan, a Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson.

As of now, the school is working to decrease the chloramine level in the pool and is using a liquid buffer to restore the pH to a healthy level. According to Gaebler, the buffer has already lowered the pH level to 7.5.

“It is not uncommon to have a pool closed,” said city spokesperson Matthai Chakko. He referenced multiple factors, ranging from unbalanced chemical levels to a gate locking improperly, as appropriate reasons for closing one of the nearly 30 pools over which the city’s division of environmental health presides.

As a long-term solution, the school will begin contracting an outside company to test the pool’s chemical level monthly instead of annually in addition to conducting the school’s regular checkups, which usually occur two to three times daily during the sports season, Coplan said.

Additionally, Gaebler said in an email that he will check the pool’s levels at night, and Berkeley High School’s facilities manager will check them in the morning “so a second set of eyes might catch and contain situations as they begin rather than after they have escalated.”

Since 2004, the pool has been closed only twice. Two years ago, the pool was tested, closed for a high pH level and reopened a few days later after a similar complaint, Coplan said.

Hollinger said the PTA may discuss the recent pool closure with regard to its districtwide implications at the Oct. 28 PTA meeting.

Contact Michelaina Johnson at [email protected].