The city told Berkeley Unified to close the high school swimming pool after students reported health issues. Photo: Mark Beyler

Update, Tuesday, Sept. 18: The Berkeley High School swimming pool was reopened Tuesday after the school district replaced problematic equipment, said a city of Berkeley spokesman.

Last week Berkeley Unified closed the pool per a recommendation by city health inspectors. The city required the district to replace the chemical feed controller that was feeding too much chlorine into the pool and causing swimmers to have bad physical reactions.

The city tested the water Tuesday after the new controller was installed, and the levels were acceptable, said Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko.

Original story, Sept.13: The city of Berkeley asked BUSD to shut down the Berkeley High swimming pool Wednesday amid student reports of hair loss and eye irritation from chemical imbalances in the water.

Berkeley Unified took the city health inspectors’ advice and closed the pool, administrators told parents of water polo players in an email sent Wednesday evening.

Last Friday, Berkeleyside reported that high chlorine levels and cold temperatures had caused students to complain of bad physical reactions. The district attributed the issues to a broken chemical feed controller pumping too much chlorine into the pool.

Water polo practice was canceled one day last week but students were sent back into the pool the next day. District staff said they had back-flushed the pool several times and turned off the controller.

The city learned about the pool issue last Friday “after hours,” said spokesman Matthai Chakko on Thursday, but staff “made a visit to the pool and tested it ourselves” Monday morning.

Those test results were normal, he said.

But the city looked into the issue further and made a “strong recommendation” that BUSD close the pool until the malfunctioning equipment was fixed or replaced.

“We’ll be working closely with them to make sure the pool is in order as quickly as possible,” Chakko said. “They’re required to fix the equipment.”

The email sent to parents, signed by BHS and district leaders, said the required parts should arrive Friday. BUSD spokesman Charles Burress said staff expect to be able to open the pool back up to students Tuesday.

“We are very aware of the importance of the pool, and we apologize for the obvious inconvenience that this is going to cause,” the email said.

The city ordered the school district to shut down the pool several years ago as well. In 2013, extremely high pH, chlorine and chloramine levels caused similar reports of hair loss and discoloration and eye irritation among swimmers and water polo players.

Chakko said he’s unaware of any other instances of the city closing the school’s pool since then.

High school and district administrators plan to hold a meeting about the recent pool issues Monday at 6 p.m. in the Berkeley High library. They will answer questions and respond to concerns.

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Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...