Thursday, July 2, 2009

Natural Swimming Pools

Swimming can be great exercise and a lot of fun, not to mention an exciting sport at the Olympics. But the chlorine used in most pools can have some negative side effects, not the least of which is reliance on toxic (and finicky) chemicals.

Chlorine's damaging effects on hair are well known, but few people realize that a number of studies have linked inhalation of the chemical by swimmers to increased asthma rates (in fact a new Irish study published this April reported a significant link between the number of years a boy had been swimming and the likelihood of the child being wheezy in the past year.)

A Norwegian study also documented an increased risk of wheezing among children who swim in pools before 6 months of age. Further, in an unpleasant reaction, pee and sweat in water can react with chlorine to form toxic breakdown products known as chloramines.

For health, environmental and aesthetic reasons, a lot of people have expressed interest in alternatives to chlorine pools, and luckily there are more and more options to get wet without smelling like cleaning products.

Managed properly, natural swimming pools have crystal clear water and require no chemicals to maintain, as they are self-cleaning mini-ecosystems. "You can drink the water if you want to, and you don't necessarily have to take a shower," says Morgan Brown of Idaho-based Whole Water Systems, LLC. The natural pools designer says the systems also have lower maintenance costs than conventional pools, and their installation costs are not much more than standard designs.

How Do They Work?

The materials and designs of natural pools can vary widely. Many are lined with rubber or reinforced polyethylene. In most popular models, such as those offered by Kansas-based Total Habitat, the swimming area is separated from a zone planted with aquatic vegetation, which acts as a biological filter. A small waterfall can add ambiance as well as valuable aeration. A skimmer may be used to collect large debris. Total Habitat typically adds a UV sterilizer to assure any germs are killed.

Worried about mosquitoes? Don't be! According to Total Habitat's president Mick Hilleary, natural predators and moving water make a natural swimming pools practically mosquito free. Hilleary says four tires stacked in your backyard will create 100 times more mosquitoes.

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