Chlorinated Pools May Expose Swimmers to Toxic Chemicals

A new study has found that swimmers who use chlorinated pools have detectable levels of a chlorine by-product called haloacetic acids (HAAs) in their bodies. The dangerous chemical shows up in the swimmers’ urine within 30 minutes of swimming, wrote Web MD.

HAA levels in drinking water are limited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which says that high amounts of the chemical are potentially linked to birth defects and cancer, said Web MD. Chlorine is used in drinking and swimming pool water to kill off dangerous bacteria; however, byproducts, including HAA, occur when certain disinfectants—chlorine is one such disinfectant—react with contaminants in the water, Web MD explained. The study is published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology.

The research team tested the urine of 49 volunteer adult and child participants who either swam in or worked around an indoor and outdoor pool and found HAAs appeared in the urine 20 to 30 minutes after exposure, said Web MD. HAAs were eliminated from the body in about three hours. For the most part, the exposure appeared to be the result of participants swallowing pool water. The remainder—about 10 percent—were the result of inhalation or skin absorption, according to the study. Children were likelier to have higher HAA concentrations.

Swimmers accumulated about four times as many HAAS than pool workers and concentrations were higher in outdoor versus indoor pools, the study revealed. HAAs might appear in greater concentrations in swimming pool water because of the recirculation systems, which are employed for long periods of time, and meant to improve water chlorination, said the researchers, wrote Web MD.

The implications to swimmers’ health are unclear due to the early stages of this research. “There is little data about HAAs in swimming pools since they are still not regulated in many parts of the world,” the researchers concluded, wrote Web MD.

We recently wrote that the health affects of chlorine made headlines for potential links to increased risks of cancer in bathers according to research conducted at Barcelona’s Center of Research in Environmental Epidemiology and Research Institute Hospital del Mar (CREAL). That study appeared in the U.S. journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

The issue of chlorinated pools and cancer also points to links between respiratory illness and chlorine. The results do send a message to industry that, ”the positive effects of swimming could be increased by reducing the chemicals,” quoted Web MD previously. Both industry and science agree. “It’s good that research is being done in this area,” said Thomas Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization, said Web MD.

Last year we wrote that a study published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (May 15) found that swimming pool chemicals have been linked to thousands of hospital emergency room visits. HealthDay News reported that the trend has been seen in recent years. Also, chlorine exposure, at low levels, can cause nose, throat, and eye irritation. At higher levels, breathing rate changes, coughing takes place, and lung damage occurs, explained the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. In some, an inflammatory reaction can result—reactive airways dysfunction syndrome or RADS—which is a type of asthma that originates from corrosive substances. Also, chlorine-containing molecules have been implicated in the devastation to the upper atmosphere’s ozone layer.

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