Staff Editorial: Swimming in problems

If you see any GW swimmers in class with less body hair than usual, it’s not because they’re shaving to be more sleek and aerodynamic in the water.

On Thursday, The Hatchet reported that members of the water polo and men’s and women’s swim teams suffered “substantial hair loss and severe itching” after practicing in a Smith Center pool that began registering a “chemical imbalance” on Oct. 21.

In and of itself, it would be unfortunate that a “mechanical glitch” occurred and caused the athletes such physical discomfort, but mistakes do happen. Here, however, the issue is not that there was a malfunction. The crux of the matter is the communications breakdown that occurred somewhere between athletes, coaches, pool management and Smith Center facilities management.

It is difficult to pinpoint where communications went awry, but when health issues are involved, confusion and lack of knowledge are unacceptable.

The week the imbalance was detected, a GW employee called Winkler Pool Management to fix the problem, and the company reported that the pH and chlorine levels that week were abnormal.

A week after all of this occurred, Jason Wilson, assistant athletic director and Smith Center facilities manager, told The Hatchet that he was unaware of any problem until he was contacted for comment and insisted that “no one would ever be exposed to something unsafe.”

Whether or not the imbalance was “unsafe,” swimmers still experienced significant hair loss on their bodies, as well as itchiness and changing hair color – and as of yet officials have not issued a public explanation. One of the swimmers’ biggest concerns was that facilities management did not keep the teams aware of the situation and still has not stated whether the imbalance had anything to do with their symptoms.

To his credit, Wilson apologized to athletes and addressed the issue once he was made aware of it, but the fact remains that as the facilities manager, Wilson should have been aware of the swimmers’ complaints and should have communicated with them well before being informed by The Hatchet.

There are still lingering, unanswered questions. The athletes are still unaware of what exactly caused their irritation and hair loss and whether the University is even looking into the issue. The communication breakdown that resulted in the Smith Center facilities manager being completely unaware of a problem with the pool has also not been satisfactorily addressed.

Student-athletes deserve better and will hopefully recover quickly from their discomfort. In the meantime, though, they do have one bit of consolation – part of next year’s millions of dollars in Smith Center renovations will go toward overhauling the pool’s plumbing and ventilation systems.

That new pool can’t come soon enough.

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