Despite attempts to disinfect the pool, some pathogens may continue to lurk in the water. And research suggests that disinfectants may pose their own health hazards. Swimming in chlorinated pools, especially indoor pools, could increase the risk of children developing respiratory diseases, such as asthma and hay fever. Chemicals such as chlorine and bromine are added to swimming pools to combat germs.
Swimming without them could be like swimming in a Petri dish, exposing people to all kinds of potentially unpleasant microbes, experts say. Harmful germs, such as Giardia, E. coli, and cryptosporidium (crypto) parasites, can spread in public swimming pools that don't have enough chlorine and pH levels that are too low. Symptoms of all three diseases include diarrhea, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, and stomach cramps.
A pool is anything but an unhealthy environment, as long as it is properly maintained. It all starts with a regular water quality test. Chlorine can also cause health problems, such as an increased risk of developing allergies or asthma in children. And among adults, exposure to chlorine in swimming pools has been linked to bladder and rectal cancer and increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Because chlorine absorbs directly into the skin, it doesn't help to keep your mouth shut and not to swallow or breathe chlorine. In 1954, for example, researchers identified a new bacterial species, Mycobacterium balnei, by searching for pool data. Before you go to the pool this weekend, find out what might be lurking in the water and learn how to protect yourself and your family. Swedish patients suffered skin lesions on their elbows and, oddly enough, they had all suffered minor scratches in the same swimming pools.
Pool lovers can use a test strip, available at most pool supply stores, or free on the Health and Water Quality Council's Healthy Pools campaign website, to determine if the pH and concentration of free chlorine or bromine are correct. On the one hand, swimming pools are chlorinated with hypochlorite salts, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer does not consider carcinogenic. Swimming is a great way to get in shape, but if your pool doesn't have saline, ozone, or a structured water filter, then you'll be stuck swimming in chlorine. Algae are single-celled organisms that grow rapidly under the right conditions and can turn pool water green in a few hours.
So that strong chemical smell actually means that the pool water is exceptionally dirty and that its chlorine and pH levels need to be tested and adjusted, Ostrowski told Life's Little Mysteries. These products in themselves are not bad for health, provided they are properly dosed in the pool. The best way to prevent swimming-related diseases from spreading is to first keep germs out of the water. A recent survey by the Health and Water Quality Council found that three-quarters of Americans mistakenly believe that the strong chemical smell of many public swimming pools is a sign that there is too much chlorine in the water.
Pool operators need to monitor chlorine levels frequently, and there is even a current promotion from the Water Quality and Health Council that provides free water test strips, so pool attendees can test chlorine levels in public pools and report any problems to managers of the swimming pools.