Summer is coming to an end, and in most parts of the country that means that the outdoor swimming season will also be ending soon, if it has not already. Avid swimmers will now be forced to turn to indoor pools for their daily aquatic activities. That strong smell of chlorine that we all know might make us think that water is clean, but as this CNN Health article points out, it might be just the opposite.
Chlorine is extremely effective at controlling almost all disease causing germs. That’s why we find chlorine not only in pools, but also our drinking water. While chlorine is very effective it is far from a perfect solution.
Each time someone gets into a pool they are adding contaminants to the water. Contaminants like sweat, hair, makeup, sunscreen, and yes urine, can all be found in any public pool. These contaminants combine with chlorine to form chloramines. These chloramines are actually what you smell when entering a pool area. A strong smell indicated that there are too many disinfectant byproducts in the water.
In outdoor environments these byproducts are able to dissipate in the air, but due to the enclosed environment, indoor pools create additional danger of exposure to these byproducts. Volatile chemical are transferred from the water to the air through the splashing and kicking associated with swimming. Without a proper ventilation system these byproducts can remain in the air for an extended period of time and are inhaled by anyone in the environment, from coaches and lifeguards to spectators and other swimmers.
Dr. Alfred Bernard is a professor of toxicology at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels and one of the world’s leading researchers on aquatic environments. He has published a series of studies documenting the effects of chlorine and its byproducts in swimming pools.
According to Bernard’s studies, swimming in indoor, chlorinated pools during childhood has been shown to reduce levels of serum inhibin B and total testosterone, both indicators of sperm count and mobility. Bernard has also substantiated a link between swimming in indoor chlorinated pools and the development of asthma and recurrent bronchitis in children. A 2007 study, conducted by Bernard, showed airway and lung permeability changes in children who had participated in an infant swimming group.
Proper use of chlorine and reducing the number of contaminants that enter the water are the best ways to reduce the risk of exposure to dangerous byproducts, and this must start with pool operators and patrons. Nearly all of the contaminants found on human skin can be eliminated by showering with soap prior to entering the pool.
"It’s a public education thing," Blatchley said. "Swimmers and the general public need to recognize that there’s a link between their hygiene habits and the health of everyone who uses the pool."
Next time you head to the pool do your part, and hit showers before you hit the water, everyone will be better off for it.