EARTH TALK 

Questions and answers about our environment

What are some ways to maintain a "green" swimming pool?

—Jim Humphey, North Andover, MA

The primary health and environmental drawbacks to swimming pools are water waste, energy waste and overuse of chlorine. Chlorine is very irritating to the eyes and skin, and can trigger breathing difficulties by also "stinging" the sensitive tissue of the lungs. The chemical's effects in a swimming pool are heightened when it comes into contact with sweat or urine. In fact, a recent Belgian study found a possible link between childhood asthma and exposure to chlorine byproducts in indoor pools.

Zodiac Pool offers a system called Nature2 that doesn't do away with chlorine entirely but does greatly decrease the amount needed. It makes use of silver and copper to destroy bacteria and algae. Silver is a bactericide whose properties have long been known. Copper kills algae. When used together, they reduce chlorine needs by 90 percent. Another product, from ChlorFree, combines silver and copper with zinc, activated carbon and other non-invasive materials to sanitize and control algae and bacteria, and also greatly reduces the need for chlorine.

According to the National Sanitation Foundation, another substitute for chlorine is ozone, which is made from oxygen and does not degrade into harmful chlorinated byproducts in a swimming pool. Ozone systems for residential pools are slowly becoming available. Sunshine Pool Products makes one that, according to owner Richard Barnes, should enable a completely chlorine-free environment if installed properly and at the right size for the size of the pool.

Pool owners can save energy while still maintaining a pristine pool by using a timer to shut off the pump for at least 12 hours of the day. To hold in heat during the night, always use a pool cover, as almost all of a pool's heat loss occurs at the surface. By employing a bubble cover (sometimes called a solar cover), outdoor pools can also gain heat, by absorbing 75 to 85 percent of the solar energy striking the pool surface. A pool cover can also reduce water loss by 30 to 50 percent—and reducing water loss also reduces the amount of chemical water treatment required.

Besides that, the easiest way to save energy is to lower the thermostat on your pool's heater (if it has one) so that it heats the pool no higher than a minimally comfortable temperature. Every one-degree reduction in temperature can cut your energy use by between five and 10 percent.

Contacts: Zodiac Pool Inc., (800) 937-7873, www.nature2.com; ChlorFree, (506) 665-0896, www.chlorfree.net; Sunshine Pool Products, (801) 728-4520, www.sunshinepool.com; National Sanitation Foundation, (800) NSF-MARK, www.nsf.org; Chlorine-Free Products Association, (847) 658-6104, www.chlorinefreeproducts.org.

What on Earth is this "Slow Food" movement I keep hearing about?

—Robert Davey, Bridgeport, CT

Carlo Petrini, an Italian, founded the international "Slow Food" movement in 1989 in response to the opening of a McDonald's at the Spanish Steps in Rome. Its head offices are in Piedmont, in the north of Italy. More than half of the organization's membership is in Italy, but the organization boasts more than 77,000 members in 48 countries, including the United States, which claims 74 local chapters. There are currently chapters in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and New Orleans, and also in smaller places like Fargo, North Dakota and Small Green Island, Washington.

The main thrust of Slow Food is to preserve and encourage traditional foods, beverages and recipes that are "endangered by McNuggets and Monsanto," Petrini says, referring to both our obsession with unhealthy fast food and the increasing and uncertain role of biotechnology. "It's a union of education, politics, environment and sensual pleasure," says Petrini. The goal: The propagation of leisurely, more epicurean eating habits, and a more enlightened and patient approach to life in general.

"Slow Food is an international movement dedicated to saving the regional cuisines and products of the world," says Patrick Martins, president of Slow Food USA. Slow Food's primary focus is on saving endangered ways of life that revolve around the stomach. For Slow Food, animals and plants are threatened, but so are recipes, harvesting methods and production techniques.

Slow Food calls its local chapters "convivia." Members organize food and wine events and other initiatives to create "conviviality" and promote the cause. According to Marsha Weiner, who leads the 200-member Washington, D.C. chapter, "Each chapter is very different and independent. Here in D.C. we organize farm visits, hands-on demonstrations with chefs in their kitchens, lectures and social events."

Slow Food advocates are settling in for a long struggle, but they say victory will eventually be theirs. On the day fast food dies, says Martins, "We will raise a glass of organic wine and say good riddance."

Contact: Slow Food USA, (212) 965-5640, www.slowfoodusa.org; Slow Food (main office), www.slowfood.com.

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