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City of Berkeley Deems BHS Pool Unsafe

Photograph by Nigel Oliphant

In the past two weeks, the levels of chlorine and other chemicals in the Berkeley High School (BHS) pool have become hazardous, affecting the numerous students who play on the boys’ and girls’ Water Polo teams.  This chemical imbalance was a result of a broken chlorine reader, which was feeding too much chlorine into the pool. There has also been a problem with the heating systems. These issues with the pool are undoubtedly concerning. But what is arguably more concerning is that this is not the first time that these malfunctions have occurred at the BHS pool.

Since the BHS pool is known for being a warm pool, it was disappointing to the players when the pool heater broke and the water became very cold at the start of the season. The pool heater breaking was also an obstacle for the aquatic teams last year.

Junior Jameson Wang, captain of the boys water polo team commented on the way this problem is affecting his team and how the administration is dealing with it. “The chemicals irritate your eyes. After practice it is incredibly painful, even to just look at your homework hurts. It’s almost as if there are little grains of salt in your eyes,” he said. “The chemicals are so bad that the thinner hair on your body gets burned off. The hairs on my arms and thighs are significantly shorter.”

Wang also spoke to how he felt the administration was dealing with the issue. “The thing that really frustrates me is that the school and admin don’t seem to care at all. This has been going on for weeks and they have done nothing to improve the situation. It seems that aquatic sports at this school just do not get the attention other sports do.” According to Wang, this is an ongoing issue.  “Last year, the pool was broken and the swim team couldn’t practice for a whole month, even though the school had months to fix it before the season started,” he said.

While the prioritization of non-aquatic sports may be a valid concern, in this instance the administration has been on top of it, after being slow to respond initially.  City officials were recently brought in to measure the quality of the water, and despite safe readings, they recommended that practice be cancelled until the pool underwent further testing. Additionally, BHS administration held a meeting to discuss concerns regarding the state of the pool.

Senior Mihika De Souza, captain of the girls team, said her team was having a similar experience. “The girls’ eyes were irritated, red, and dry. One girl’s eyes were so dry, she couldn’t put her contacts in,” she said. De Souza added “The school hasn’t done anything. They said they fixed the temperature and chlorine, but it’s not fixed.” According to a 2013 Berkeleyside article, a similar situation has happened at the BHS pool before. Both the pH and chlorine levels were ten times higher then they should’ve been, resulting in “burning eyes, bleached hair, and in some cases the disappearance of body hair.” The school district was involved and has been doing regular checks of the pool ever since, though the fact that this is a recurring issue is worrisome.

These inconveniences gave the teams a rocky start to their season. But if the BHS water polo teams can overcome a cold, acidic pool, their competition should stand no chance. Both teams are looking forward to the season and will continue to persevere as league competition begins.