Minimize the Risks of Swimming in Chlorinated Pools



Last summer one of my kids' favorite activities was swimming with friends at a local pool. So this summer I decided to fork over the money for a pool membership. Which means I am committing to taking my kids swimming frequently in order to get my money's worth. But the pool is chlorinated, as most are, and swimming in chlorinated pools has certain risks. Nonetheless, I believe for my family the pros of physical activity and fun with friends outweigh the risks. Still, I'd like to mitigate those risks as much as possible. First a bit about the risks.


The Dangers of Swimming in Chlorinated Pools


Feel free to skip over this section and go straight to the strategies for minimizing the risks below. We don't all need to know the depressing details! But for those interested, here goes. When contaminants such as sweat, hair, sunscreen, or urine mix with the chlorine in the pool, they form disinfectant by-products, or DBPs. One type of DBP, chloramines, is responsible for the strong chlorine smell we associate with pools. DBPs are known respiratory irritants. Many DBPs are toxic or suspected carcinogens.

Indoor chlorinated pools create an additional danger compared to outdoor pools because of the enclosed atmosphere. I have long disliked indoor pools because of the mugginess and extra strong chlorine smell (which is actually chloramines) of the indoor air. Volatile chemicals can be transferred from water to air and then inhaled by swimmers and spectators. Outdoor pools offer greater ventilation.

Numerous studies have connected swimming in chlorinated pools to health problems, particularly for the very young and the highly exposed (for example, elite swimmers and pool workers). Health problems associated with exposure to chlorinated pools include increased risk of respiratory problems, childhood asthma and allergies, DNA damage and bladder cancer (see this discussion of the effects of DBPs). Several studies have highlighted the risks of swimming in indoor chlorinated pools in particular. For example, studies have linked swimming in indoor pools to testicular damage, as well as asthma and recurrent bronchitis in children. But the research on DNA damage and cancer is in the early stages, and the research reviews on chlorinated pool exposure and childhood respiratory problems that I read stated that the connection is inconclusive (since some studies find no connection, or even associate swimming with a decrease in respiratory symptoms).

For me, the bottom line is that toxic chemicals are present in and around chlorinated pools, and while researchers are busy studying the health effects of those compounds, my family will enjoy the benefits of recreational swimming while doing our best to mitigate our exposure to harmful chemicals.



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How to Limit Exposure to Harmful Substances in Chlorinated Pools


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