Salt Water Swimming Pools: Neither Eco-Friendly, Nor Chemical-Free
Salt water swimming pools bring up a lot of questions: Are they just like swimming in the ocean? What exactly are salt water pools, and why would a pool owner want to use one? Does a home pool with salt water in it not use chlorine? How do you keep the water clean and safe for the kids? And importantly, is the salt water pool really better for the environment and our health?
An opinion offered by SpectralightUV.com suggests there are many misconceptions about salt water pools. There is the popular belief that a salt water pool is chemical-free or chlorine-free, a belief confirmed by research the author did for In The Swim. Since salt water can't provide any sanitation for a pool without electrolysis, the more accurate description of a salt water pool is that it is a "chlorine generator" pool.
According to an article in ChicagoTribune.com, salt water pools are becoming increasingly popular because they are thought to be "healthier", needing fewer chemicals. This gives them the impression of being eco-friendly, when compared to traditional pool systems. But salt water pools DO use chlorine - just less of it. The pool owner installs a salt generator which manufactures its own chlorine. Instead of adding chlorine directly to the pool water, salt water chlorinating systems use electrolysis, which releases chlorine gas from the salt in the water. When the chlorine gas mixes with the water, it creates liquid chlorine, which then mixes with the pool water, providing the cleaning component to the system.
In a traditional in-ground pool decontaminating process, chlorine mixes with organic matter - sweat, saliva, dandruff, urine, and turns into other chemicals, including chloramines. The source of the chlorine smell in a pool is the chloramines which have become airborne. Since the salt water generators deliver a constant stream of chlorine, they make the chloramines less of an issue. This impact is most noticeable in that it is less irritating to the eyes and skin of swimmers. The salinity is about 1/12 of that of the ocean.
Though salt water swimming pools have been tried a number of times, there is still some debate over the true benefits of this type of pool. There are differing opinions on how effective this process is for introducing chlorine into pool water for decontaminant purposes. Even the electrical consumption required to generate the chlorine is expensive.
One big advantage of the salt water pool is that by generating chlorine, the pool owner doesn't have to purchase chlorine, nor go through storing and administering chemicals to the pool. Although this may mean more safety for one's health (and less danger of accidental exposure for kids or pets), is this really an eco-friendly advantage? There's NOT a really compelling argument for this option being environmentally friendly. It's really more about possible cost and time savings in chemical purchases. But these arguments don't really present a strong "eco-friendly" position.
The disadvantage of salt water swimming pools is the high levels of chlorine which must be generated by the system to sanitize and oxidize the pool water. This means running the chlorine generator and the associated costs and environmental impact which go along with it. The same problems which need to be addressed in regular pools appear with a salt water or chemical generator pool - the residuals of chlorine that exist, which give what is commonly thought of as "that chlorine smell." Some additional component such as an ultraviolet or ozone process is needed to handle disinfection byproducts, or the ability of a chlorine generator is will not provide a sufficient disinfectant process.
Regardless of the debates around the effectiveness of salt water swimming pools, and although they may have some advantages of traditional pools, the actual benefits for the environment from using this system seem to be minimal, and not really a compelling argument for implementing a salt water pool.
Becky Flanigan is a freelance author for PoolCenter.com. She has 3 kids with her wonderful husband - two boys and a girl - and two lovely golden retrievers.