Euphoria’s Blog for Green Mamas

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Are Swimming Pools Safe? June 9, 2009

Filed under: Healthy Living — Rachel @ 3:14 pm
Tags: ,

Moms everywhere are starting to question the safety of the chemicals our children encounter in the average American lifestyle.  With June comes weekly trips to the pool, and one wonders if sweet little ones are marinating in a toxic soup.  After all, when you can smell the chemicals, that’s usually a very bad sign!

Healthy Child Healthy World, one of my favorite organizations, published Chlorinated Pools and Your Child’s Health, by Janelle Sorensen last year.  The article raises concerns about the safety of the air above the water, which in chlorinated pools will emit fumes that have been shown to trigger asthma, and the safety of the water itself, which will contain volatile compounds as a result of the chlorine coming into contact with hair, body products, sweat, saliva, or urine.  These volatile compounds are carcinogens (links to studies are included). 

Swimming is a wonderful, healthy past time.  This is not to say that we should keep our kids out of pools, but we can make choices that will minimize these risks. 

There are alternatives to chlorine.  If you have your own pool, consider using a mineral sanitizer, ozonization or ultraviolet light to sanitize the pool without dangerous chemicals.  Nature2 Express is a quick, affordable ($175) and eco-friendly sanitizer that uses the mineral elements of silver and copper, with a bit of chlorine, to keep your pool clean.  Read more about alternatives in this article at the Green Upgrader

If a chlorine-free pool is not available to you, be sure to swim in an outdoor pool, which will have exponentially cleaner air than an indoor pool.  Favor pools that have “shower before swimming” rules and be sure to follow them.  Even swimming in less popular pools or when few people are present does something to counteract the concerns.  If your community has a pool, talk to the management about how often it is emptied (which clears out some of the volatile disinfection bi-products) and about experimenting with greener sanitizing options.

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6 Responses to “Are Swimming Pools Safe?”

  1. Bethany Says:

    Hi Rachel!
    Another interesting post!
    You don’t mentioned salt-treated pools (unless that is just another name for the mineral treatments you mention); we have two friends who treat their pools in this way, and I find it to be a much more pleasant swimming experience.

    Another related concern is the issue of sanitation not only at pools but also at splash pads and other water features. There have been a number of cases in which people sickened following exposure to cryptosporidium (which is chlorine resistant). According to the National Swimming Pool Foundation, even the swimming diapers do not protect against spreading this. The recommendations are things like, “Children’s bottoms should be scrubbed with soap and water before they are allowed to swim.” I don’t see many moms or dads doing this before their kids enter the pool (I have never really thought to do it myself!).

    this is another case in which is seems challenging to find an appropriate balance between safety and fun. Right now, we’re mostly enjoying our tiny backyard baby pool, which I empty and scrub between uses…. but those larger baby pools sure are fun!

  2. Rachel Says:

    Yes, salt-treated pools fall under the mineral treatment category. Thanks for sharing your experience, as I’ve never actually had a chance to swim in a mineral treated pool!

  3. Jeff Sloan Says:

    Hi Rachel-

    Thanks for the post, but I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions. We need to protect against waterborne germs that can make swimmers sick. Chlorine in the water is a good thing – it kills most of these germs quickly. “Salt treated pools” simply make chlorine at your poolside with electricity and salt (sodium chloride). The resulting chemistry is the same. As Bethany notes, Cryptosporidium is resistant to chlorine and can be particularly dangerous for kids and pregnant women. Supplemental treatment systems like UV and ozone can help, but chlorine is still needed to help kill germs throughout the pool. Just as important, swimmers and parents should practice good hygiene to help these germs out of the pool in the first place.

    In regards to the correlation between asthma and chlorinated pools, I encourage you to read an article on Asthma Mom (http://bit.ly/1508Be) which discusses this in-depth. While past studies have established a connection between children with asthma and swimming in chlorinated pools, more recent studies have shown that there’s simply not enough evidence to make that conclusion. I hope you find this helpful!

    Best Regards,
    Jeff

    Jeff Sloan
    American Chemistry Council

  4. Rachel Says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for your comment, but I certainly cannot agree that in general “chlorine in the water is a good thing”. Chlorine is not a safe, risk-free chemical. It is also usually contaminating to the environment when it is manufactured. If just-as-effective (or even nearly-as-effective, but safe) alternatives for santitation are available that eliminate or greatly reduce the level of chlorine in the pool, I want to encourage parents to try them.

    The article you shared about the relationship of asthma and chlorine-treated pools was interesting. Here’s a quote, “Although the concern about the pool chlorine hypothesis is valid, I would say it’s premature to act upon those concerns.” Here’s where most of my readers would disagree. We don’t want to wait to make changes until the risks of chlorine’s contributing to asmtha are proven beyond a doubt, if they ever are. Instead, we want to take proactive measures RIGHT NOW to reduce our children’s exposures to concerning chemicals, when reasonable options exist.

  5. Jeff Sloan Says:

    Rachel-

    I think you and agree that the first priority should be protecting against germs. According to the CDC, recreational water illnesses are on the rise. Between 2005 and 2006, 78 reported outbreaks sickened 4,500 people. There are risks associated with all pool disinfection methods. I am not arguing against any of the other methods you mentioned, but none is an “alternative” to chlorine. They should be viewed as “supplemental” treatment. While ozone and ultraviolet disinfection kill germs as water circulates through the treatment system, chlorine has a residual effect that continuously disinfects throughout the entire pool.

    Best Regards,
    Jeff

    Jeff Sloan
    American Chemistry Council

    • Rachel Says:

      I wonder why recreational water illnesses are on the rise? Chlorine is still the standard treatment in US pools, so alternatives are not likely culprits. It seems the American immune system is falling prey to more and more illnesses – probably due to a combined effect of poor diet, lack of exercise, continued exposure to toxins and poor medicine.

      Our central point of disagreement is whether alternative pool sanitation methods should be used INSTEAD of chlorine or as a SUPPLEMENT to chlorine. The answer lies in the specifics of application. Supplementation is a good idea. And, many public pools should aim to implement a product such as Nature2 Express in order to reduce the amount of chlorine they require for safe sanitation levels.

      But, it is possible and safe to use these eco-friendly, non-toxic methods INSTEAD of chlorine too. In fact, way back in 2004, the The Chlorine-Free Products Association endorsed an Ozone-only public pool in
      Fairhope, AL that is operating safely without the need for chlorine or other chemicals. “Mainstream” the company that developed the ozone sanitation technique used in that pool over 13 years. Tests show it is working to specification.

      Also, if you read the article I linked to at the Green Upgrader, you’ll see that in Europe they’re using water plants to “foster the growth of beneficial microorganisms that kill bacteria and keep natural pools clean enough to comply with the European Union’s strict water quality standards.” (Note: the plants are separated from the simming portion of the pool). Especially in home pools where the risks of contamination are exponentially lower than in public pools, one has to weigh the risks of contamination against the risks of chlorine itself. It is quite conceivable to use alternative santitation means, eliminating chlorine entirely, in many home environments – and people do. To say otherwise is to have an unusual dedication to the promotion of chlorine as a preferred chemical, despite it’s clear risks to humans and the environment.


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