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The Dangers Of Pools

The CDC recently released the results of a 2008 analysis of more than 121,000 public pool inspections. 61% of the inspections revealed code violations, including nearly 23% that showed either a total lack of disinfectant or improper disinfectant levels.

As would be expected, many of the violations occurred at the likes of city-run pools and kiddie spots, but a more surprising fact is that about 35% of pools at hotel/motels, apartment/condos, and water parks had circulation and filtration violations.

The most common health problem from improper pool upkeep is gastroenteritis, which is on the rise, according to the CDC.

There’s not much you can do about how others take care of their pools, other than to avoid them, but if you have a pool at home, you should be aware of proper maintenance, including the right way to use chlorine.

Chlorine, the cleaning agent of choice for the vast majority of pool owners, is a dangerous element that, in certain uses, can pose a major environmental hazard (such as in the production of PVC).

But does the form of chlorine in pools, and the relatively low levels used, present a real risk? The World Health Organization gives a qualified “no.”

WHO explains it’s not chlorine itself that’s a health risk but the chemicals produced when chlorine interacts with other substances in pool water. WHO acknowledges these risks, but concludes, “the risks from exposure to chlorination by-products in reasonably well managed swimming pools would be considered to be small and must be set against the benefits of aerobic exercise and the risks of infectious disease in the absence of disinfection.”

The key phrase there would be “reasonably well managed.” There are some health horror stories as a result of mismanaged pools, but what about when you’re doing everything right with your pool upkeep?

Pool industry group The Association of Pool & Spa Professionals recommends daily testing to ensure a minimum level of 1 ppm of free chlorine – the specific form that acts as the cleanser – in your pool, up to the EPA-mandated maximum of 4 ppm. So optimally you should shoot for around 2 ppm.

However, there are studies indicating even these levels may be hazardous. Research published in 2003 in Occupational and Environmental Medicine shows a link between regular use of indoor pools and asthma, and a 2004 study in the American College of Sports Medicine shows a link between respiratory problems in trained swimmers and chlorine, even at levels as low as 1 ppm.

So how does the EPA reach its 4 ppm recommendation? Remember, it’s not the free chlorine itself, but the chlorine’s interaction with other stuff in a pool – anything from tree litter to splashed-off makeup to urine – that creates the dangerous chemicals. So the APSP sticks by its numbers, and stresses the importance of overall pool procedures, including maintaining proper pH balance, keeping pools clear of debris, properly venting indoor pools, staying out of the water when sick, taking frequent bathroom breaks, showering before swimming, and, of course, not swallowing pool water (perhaps a physical impossibility).

But beyond the possible health risks, some people simply don’t like the feel of chlorine in the hair and on their skin, not to mention the smell. There are options:

Ozone generators – These machines release ozone into the water to kill microorganisms, and requires you to use much smaller doses of chlorine. But ozone has its own problems, according to the EPA.

Ion generators – Copper and silver are used to clean out the bad stuff.

Organic cleansing – Probably the most extreme alternative, this system pumps water through rocks and plants to clean your “natural swimming pool.”

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“The Dangers Of Pools”

  1. Anonymous Jeff Sloan Says:

    This article contains some great information on pools. I’d like to add that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls chlorine a vital part of the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses that can make swimmers sick. In fact, this year the CDC is encouraging swimmers to become activists and test their pool water to see if they are swimming in a healthy pool. The Water Quality & Health Council is making free pool test kits available to swimmers through its website at www.healthypools.org/freeteststrips. The website includes healthy pools tips, including how to recognize the signs of a healthy pool. As for asthma issue, a scientific review of relevant studies (Goodman and Hays, 2008 http://bit.ly/******* *********DiqQ) suggests that a correlation between swimming pools and childhood asthma does not exist, and that swimming may be a better aerobic exercise for asthmatics than running or cycling.

    I hope this information is helpful.

    Jeff Sloan
    American Chemistry Council