What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You ⚠️
For those of you that frequent Pool Operator Talk (Yes, that’s the name of the site you are on 🧐) , I am sure you are aware that I often lead a guest blog post with a paragraph or two on why I asked a specific contributor to talk on the subject they had written about. I’m not going to do that here. All I am going to say is that I had asked my friend Steve Goodale if he could put together a piece on “liner fails”, however Steve chose to open up on a personal level instead and what we got was so much more. Here is what Swimming Pool Steve wanted to share with you.
When I was asked by Rudy to provide a piece of content here I was excited but unsure what content I could provide that would be especially insightful, unique or compelling. As someone who has written hundreds of articles about pools and spas it can be easy to become complacent. I did not want to provide a lukewarm blog article about vinyl liners, or why tiles fall off, or any other subject that I have written about 100 times before. I wanted to share something with your readers that they do not know about and have not read in any other pool publication anywhere.
What I am about to tell you is true. It is also sad. If you are paying attention it is also very scary. With any luck I should be starting to really grab your attention here…and with good reason. I am going to tell you something that you have never been told before and, hopefully, it will change how you do your job moving forward.
While I have gained some notoriety in the swimming pool industry for my efforts as “Swimming Pool Steve” the vast majority of you will not be aware that I am unwell. The reason that I write about pools and spas instead of building them anymore is due to a rare condition called Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. MCTD is a rare autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells in the brain, eyes, organs (skin and internal), bones, blood and connective tissues. Mainly MCTD is made up of overlapping symptoms from systemic lupus, scleroderma and myositis. Once you have it, there is no cure, and you will always have it.
I am now unable to be in the sun for even short periods of time. Even through 110 SPF sunblock and UV resistant clothes I will react in the sun. The sun, or certain foods, or stress, or any number of other factors all can make my immune system react poorly now, and initiate a “flare” of my immune system activity. It feels a lot like the flu, but it never goes away, and can also cause things like muscle pain and weakness, joint pain, recurring infections, rashes and cognitive impairment such as confusion or forgetfulness. I am continuing to learn about my disease and I am trying very hard to find a quality of life similar to the one that I once had.
So, now, you might be wondering why I am telling you about this? Sure you have never heard of MCTD before but other than some sympathy you might feel for me, how does this affect you or your life as a pool and spa technician? Remember above where I stated that there is no known cure for MCTD – well there is no known cause for MCTD either. If you are a follower of mine on www.swimmingpoolsteve.com then you already know that I have a very thorough technical mind. I like to vet out concepts and I am not afraid of digging deep to get the details I want. I, of course, have taken the same approach to learn about MCTD and what happened to me that resulted in this situation.
It is almost certain that I will never get a definitive answer about what happened to me and my health. Current medical science barely has an understanding for what causes autoimmunity issues like this and how to best treat them. There are a lot of conflicting opinions from experts. In particular I found some unsettling information while researching the potential causes for MCTD. It is currently believed that it is most likely to be a mixture of genetic factors, epigenetic factors and environmental exposures that can cause autoimmune disease like MCTD. It could be any one of these, or it could be a combination of two or more. Of particular interest is the environmental exposure.
In the most simple to understand terms my immune system got confused due to a mutation in my DNA. Something caused my DNA to mutate and in doing so triggered an immune response. My immune system attack the damaged DNA and in this process made the connection that things that look like my DNA are a foreign invader that needs to be eradicated. This is why there is no cure. Once the immune system becomes confused and starts attacking healthy cells there is no method to stop it from repeating this learned behavior.
Since I can not be cured, it does not really matter, and yet I wanted to explore why this potentially happened to me. What caused all of this? I certainly have led a stressful life and so I suppose that could be a contributing factor. There are other AI diseases in my family, and while there is no direct familial link, there is an increased risk factor for AI if other people in your direct family have AI. Certainly nothing definitive here that would lead me to believe one way or another that this caused my AI disease to manifest.
What about environmental factors that cause MCTD and other autoimmune diseases? Is there any current research that seems to implicate anything in particular for causing AI disease? As a matter of fact there is…there are two specific chemical exposures which have been known to result in MCTD. There is not conclusive evidence enough for medical diagnosis based on environmental contact alone, however it would appear that two chemicals that might be directly related to MCTD are silica and vinyl chloride.
If your butt did not get a little tighter reading that last line then I don’t think you are paying attention. Silica and vinyl chloride are both something you will encounter every day while working in the pool industry. Silica sand in pool filters, but also the silica content in concrete are both extremely noteworthy. Repeated occupational contact with silica is definitely something that all concrete workers, and to a lesser degree pool service technicians, encounter at work regularly. If you work with concrete every day then this would be a serious concern for you. While I worked with concrete extensively, especially shotcrete which atomizes the concrete into the air as you apply it, my real concern was the vinyl chloride.
As a pool plumbing specialist I spent the better part of 25 years solvent welding PVC – poly vinyl chloride. Most specifically, our entire industry is based around installing pool equipment in small rooms. This means for 25 years I was solvent welding poly vinyl chloride in a closet…when you say it like that it sounds really bad.
Now, of course, you should always wear your ventilator when solvent welding PVC. We all know this. So…how many of you actually do that? Before I was Swimming Pool Steve people knew me as Safety Steve and I took almost every precaution I could at work to enhance the safety of the workplace. But when it comes to ventilators and working in a closet in the summer heat, I just could not wear one. I need glasses to see at all times and regardless of which ventilator I wore every breath would fog up my vision. I instead used a series of fans to move fresh air into my work areas. It was a compromise on safety and one I wish I had not taken.
This is my lesson for you all – do not make health and safety concessions at work. You might be gambling with more than you realize. I thought that I was working as safe as possible but in reality I was placing the efficiency of the job above my health and safety. I should have found a better way. In the pool industry we are exposed to high levels of chemicals from many different sources. If you do not protect yourself against contact with these chemicals you may one day find yourself in a compromised position like me. It would be a mistake to take these chemicals for granted. I can not tell you definitively why my health deteriorated the way it did, but the connection to organic solvents and vinyl chloride in particular is of serious concern. If I were a young man entering the pool industry today I would take a totally different approach to protecting myself from the fumes and chemicals that we use for solvent welding PVC. I hope my story helps other people to avoid ending up in a situation like me.
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About the author – Steve Goodale is a blogger and technical specialist who has over 3,000,000 readers per year on his popular pool and spa blog www.SwimmingPoolSteve dot com. If you would like to learn more about what causes MCTD and the connections between silica, vinyl chloride and autoimmune disease, you can read this article from Steve about what causes mixed connective tissue disease: www.cookformebaby.com/cause.html