By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Different pools can evoke different physical reactions. Some pools are heavily chlorinated; other pools have strange, green floating substances; and still other pools are pristine, clear, and blue. Competitive swim pools are relatively consistent in the United States, per strict regulation, but when you venture outside of the United States, sometimes, water quality can be a mixed bag.
Catherine Yeo is just 12 years old, but she has experienced her share of suspect pool water quality. As a student who lives in China during the academic year, Yeo noticed she had different reactions in different pools.
For a school science project in China, Yeo decided to test various pools in China for water quality issues. She then emailed me her results, which concluded that some of the pools in China were virtually un-swimmable.
I was so impressed not only with Yeo’s scientific project but also her mature entrepreneur spirit that I wanted to share an interview here for our segment of “Swim Entrepreneurs.” Though she states that a career in water engineering may not be in her future, the 12-year-old does state that, perhaps, a career as a business owner may be down the road.
In addition to providing a unique take on swimming abroad in China, Yeo also provides some excellent advice, like stating, “I learned that the only way to change or improve something you want is by proving that that thing needs improvement.” Below is the full interview. Enjoy.
1. How did you come up with this project?
I came up with this idea for the science fair project because our teacher had told us to “do a project on something you can relate to, something you love”. I love to swim, and I tried to come up with a good idea having to do with water that will benefit people other than me.
Many of my teammates and I have numerous skin/other allergic reactions to the water in the swimming pool sometimes. Every week I go to several swimming pools, such as the one at my school, one 10 minutes away from my school, one long course pool an hour away, etc. I noticed different reactions to different swimming pools, so I wondered, why is it that swimmers get different reactions at different pools?
2. Talk a little bit about the testing process...
Stage 1: Data Collection – I used clean plastic water bottles and collected samples of the pool water every two weeks I went there. I had a total of 19 samples in the end.
Stage 2: Research common elements (chemical properties) in the pool water that are measured for quality, and find the ideal/recommended levels of each element. The chemical properties I had researched and measured were the chlorine levels, bromine levels, pH, hardness, and alkalinity.
Stage 3: Find suitable tests that can test the levels of water quality. Perform the tests. I used Smart Test® 6-Way Combo Test Strips to measure the chemical properties.
Stage 4: Research and find suitable tests for common bacteria in water (coliform and E. coli). Perform the tests. I had conducted the experiment using Edvotek 951 Water Quality Testing kit.
Stage 5: Compile and tabulate the results. Draw conclusions and make recommendations.
3. Why did you want to test pools you swam at?
I wanted to test pools I swam at because I would get out of the pool and start itching all over, coughing non-stop, or have pink rashes appear all over my face. Many people (and by many, I mean at least 10 people in each lane in a 25-meter pool) go swimming in Shanghai to avoid the terrible air (the PM 2.5 in Shanghai is often worse than Beijing’s) or the horrid temperatures (in winter the temperature can go down to -10ºC, and in summer it can be 40ºC), so it was important that someone needs to help improve the swimming pool water quality to benefit the whole. Also, in March one of the pools I went to became super green and you could not see in the water for more than 1 meter. In May, human waste was sighted in another swimming pool. I just had to avoid all these mishaps and help the swimming pools and the swimmers.
4. What did your test results show?
None of the samples were acceptable in all categories. The water samples from the five pools showed that all of them were below the recommended levels of bromine. For the total chlorine level, the Chinese standards and the US standards were different. According to US standards, all except two were below the recommended range. According to Chinese standards (which require lower amount of chlorine), 6 out of 17 were at the recommended range. 12 out of the 17 samples were within the recommended range for the alkalinity. 6 out of 17 samples were within the recommended pH levels. 7 out of 17 samples were within the recommended range for the total hardness. For the five pools tested in Shanghai over the course of 2-3 months, they do not maintain consistent water quality and in general, do not adhere to the recommended ranges for the chemical properties. Less than half of the tests conducted on the water samples had results that were within the recommended range. In terms of bacteria, the five pools were relatively clean except for one pool, in which coliforms were detected twice. (This pool is always very busy and has a lot of swimmers)
5. Did you show pools your results?
Out of the five pools, I showed three pools the results as I didn’t go to the other two swimming pools after the Science Fair.
6. What was the reaction of pool facility managers after showing them?
Two out of three pool managers ignored my results. They didn’t believe an 11-year old girl, which isn’t very surprising as I was in China. The third manager believed me and listened to my advice on how to improve the pool water. That pool soon became the cleanest pool I have ever went to, but after 5 months the water started to turn gross again.
7. What was the reaction of your classmates?
My classmates didn’t really care about my project because I am the only person who does competitive swimming in our class. My teammates, though, were pretty interested, and their parents asked me a lot of questions about the tests and the results since swimming in a clean environment is important to those who truly love swimming.
8. Do you have an interest in a career in water engineering/environmental science?
Even though I do love the water, I do not believe I would pursue a career in environmental science. I also love math and science, so I am hoping to become a computer engineer and maybe start my own company.
9. What was the biggest thing you learned from doing this?
I learned that the only way to change or improve something you want is to by proving that that thing needs improvement. I had told the pool managers previously that the water was in a terrible condition and needed to be cleaned up, but why would they listen to an 11-year old seemingly clueless girl? But when you hand them papers with scientific results, it is more plausible. It was a great accomplishment for me personally, because I want more people to swim and to love swimming.
10. How often are you in China?
I am in China for my academic year, so when it is the Chinese New Year holidays or summer vacation I return to the States. Sometimes I also return to the States for a big swim meet or an important family event.
11. How long ago was this study?
This study was conducted a little less than a year ago, from April to June of 2013.
12. Will you do more studies in the future?
I have done a few minor studies since then. Whenever the water at a certain pool returnes to its past unswimmable state, I will collect a sample from that pool and test it. If I have another observation or question related to swimming pool water, I will definitely do more studies. I truly love swimming, and making swimming a happier time for everyone else.