No more green hair: chlorine-free pools

Switching to a chemical-free swimming pool was a no-brainer for David Hertz.

“My pool man shows up with his clothes eaten away by chemicals, telling me that another one of his pool friends has cancer,” says the Venice-based architect. “And he’s not making the connection.”

An active ingredient in WWI-era mustard gas, chlorine has been America’s pool sanitizer of choice for nearly as long. However, Europe has preferred saltwater, ozone and ionization more than 50 years.

And last month, science gave pause to the wisdom of wading in chemical warfare with a Belgian study that linked childhood asthma to chlorinated pools. Previous research suggested chlorine causes miscarriages, stillbirths and bladder cancer.

For Halle Blessing, CEO of Santa Cruz-based Energistx, our chlorinated love affair comes down to willful defiance: “What advantage is it to a pool company that sells chlorine to sell you a machine that makes you not have to buy chlorine?”

Saltwater is the best-known substitute, but saltwater pools aren’t chlorine-free; salt generates chlorine when you add an electrical current that converts natural salt (NaCl) to chloramine.

Pool experts say chloramine is kinder, gentler chlorine: no dry skin, red eyes or green hair. And while a chlorine generator costs $1,500 — about 10 times the price of a traditional chlorinator — chlorine costs $180 a year; salt costs $9.

Tito Ignacio, operations manager of Wailani Natural Purewater Systems, says that isn’t enough.

“(Saltwater systems are) misleading as an alternative,” he says. “They actually make gas chlorine and you still need to use cyanuric acid (to balance the pH), which is made from a very deadly chemical.”

Ignacio specializes in copper and silver ionization, a system he installed for Hertz, and ozone. Copper and silver attack algae and bacteria, respectively; ozone takes care of ammonia and nitrogen compounds that make up organic contaminants, such as suntan lotion and sweat.

It’s a more expensive system, starting at $2,400, but it’s one that Hertz can’t praise enough.

“There’s a difference in the texture of the water,” says Hertz of his courtyard lap pool. “It feels like you’re in a freshwater lake. I used to have my kids shower immediately after getting out of the pool. Now, I make them shower before going in.”

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