A pool expert tells Business Insider that the “fart” smell in the green Olympic diving pool makes the situation much more mysterious and concerning.
Kevin Post, principal and studio director at Counsilman Hunsaker – a company that designed pools for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics – said that none of the official explanations for the pool’s bizarre color, like algae or a pH imbalance, fully account for its stink.
“The odor becomes concerning,” Post said, “because typically algae would be in a pool that has no chlorine. And it would smell like freshwater or maybe a lake – not a fart.”
Similarly, he said, a pH change to the pool might cause some dissolved copper in the pool to clump up, which could alter the color of the water but not its smell.
Post said Olympians who’ve already been in the pool should rinse off and shower “as quickly as possible” and also make sure to properly clean their bathing suits and other swim gear, since some recreational water illnesses can spread if there’s no chlorine in the water.
Most of those conditions would have one symptom in common, said Post: diarrhea. “If they are experiencing any extreme diarrhea they should go [to the hospital] and get that checked out.”
Another possibility, he said, is that there’s far too much chlorine in the pool. A bad pH balance could cause the pool’s maintenance systems to dump chlorine into the water, which might turn the pool green. If the water was saturated enough, raw, stinky chlorine gas might rise from the water.
Chlorine gas is very poisonous and has a defined stink. And Post said that actually makes him doubt chlorine gas was the problem. If there was enough chlorine gas in the air to make the room stink, he said, we’d probably be hearing about even scarier health issues.
Wildly altered pH could also account for why some water polo athletes, whose pool also turned a light shade of green, felt their eyes burning and itching, he said. When people swim in water with a pH much different from that of their eyes, it can cause irritation.
“Most modern pools will have a [computerized] controller that will continuously monitor the pH,” Post said.
All a pool’s caretakers have to do is keep an eye on the controller to make sure it’s working properly, and that its chemical stores are full.
“It’s not hard,” he added, noting that hundreds of thousands of Olympic-style pools operate all over the world without turning green. “This kind of thing gives me concern that either they don’t have modern systems on there or have the proper personnel monitoring the systems.”
Should the pool have been kept open?
The news of the pool’s stink landed midway through Business Insider’s conversation with Post. But even when the water was just murky but not odorless, he said the situation was serious enough that he’d consider keeping people out of the pool.
“A well-maintained pool should be so clear you can read a penny at the bottom,” he said. “I would not want to open a green pool and use it. That doesn’t mean it’s unsafe.”
Later he added, “I personally would not want to swim in a green pool.”