When summertime approaches and temperatures climb, it’s time to head to the pool. What child doesn’t enjoy splashing in the cool water as the hot sun beats down overhead? Although swimming is an enjoyable pastime and a good form of exercise, splashing around in chlorinated swimming pools has its downsides when it comes to health. It appears that swimming pools and chlorine can increase the risk of health problems.
The chlorine disinfectants used in swimming pools are important for killing bacteria and preventing the spread of disease. If they weren’t used, public swimming pools could easily become avenues for the spread of viruses and bacteria capable of causing illness. Unfortunately, the chlorine used in chlorinated swimming pools gives off a variety of by-products when exposed to organic material. These byproducts include chloramines and the suspected carcinogens trihalomethane and chloroform. Swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool, if done frequently, can be a significant source of exposure to these chloramines. This is particularly true if swimming is carried out in indoor pools where there is less ventilation and opportunity for the toxic gasses to escape.
One health risk associated with chlorinated swimming pools is lung irritation. Some studies have shown that children who swim in swimming pools containing chlorine have an increased risk of developing asthma. This is due to the irritating effects of the chloramine byproducts which can easily enter the air. Chloramines are what give pools their characteristic “chlorine smell”. Theoretically, the stronger the smell, the higher the likelihood of overexposure to these irritating chemicals. Workers who work at pools, particularly indoor ones, appear to have a higher incidence of asthma-like symptoms according to studies.
You may have experienced burning of the eyes and eye pain after swimming in a pool. The chloramines and other disinfectant byproducts found in swimming pools can cause significant eye irritation as well as a sore throat. Skin irritation is also a common problem for frequent swimmers. From a beauty perspective, chlorine byproducts can damage the hair and even change its color.
Some of these problems associated with swimming in chlorinated swimming pools can be minimized by swimming in a pool that’s properly maintained. The chlorine level in a pool should be kept between two and four parts per million and the pH kept between 7.2 to 7.8. This will reduce the amount of chloramines produced. If a pool has that “chlorine” smell, it probably has high chloramines levels and is not healthy for swimming. Risk can also be reduced by not frequenting indoor pools where gasses and other byproducts aren’t able to escape. Of course, it’s important not to swallow chlorinated water and to wear goggles if prone to eye irritation.
The bottom line? Although swimming is an excellent form of exercise, chlorinated swimming pools offer some health risks. Fortunately, here are now chlorine free alternatives for disinfecting pools. If you have access to a chlorine free pool, it may be a safer option.