A recent article that appeared on WebMD questioned the safety of swimming in pools that have been treated with chlorine due to by-products called haolacetic acids (HAAs). The article, entitled, “Do Pools Expose Swimmers to Potentially Harmful Chemicals?”, explain a recent study that was published in Environmental Science & Technology.
The study found that HAAs were present in the urine of swimmers 20-30 minutes after exposure and were eliminated from the body within three hours. Sounds scary right? But , there are some clear reasons and explanations about this occurrence that also prove why chemicals are so important to clean swimming pools.
Chlorine is used in both drinking water and in swimming pools to kill harmful bacteria. Essentially, it is used to disinfect swimming pools and spas. Chlorine is an effective solution that works as an oxidizer to kill bacteria and control algae in your pool water. This makes the pool water safer and prevents those swimming from getting sick. Along with other chemicals intended to provide proper chemical balance to the water, chlorine works to keep the walls and bottom of your pool clean.
Presence of HAAs
The concern about HAAs comes from the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency limits HAA levels in drinking waters due to research that connects it to a greater potential for birth defects and cancer. However, HAAs appear because these are a by-product of chlorine doing its job. Chlorine reacts with impurities in the water and treats the water, thereby leading to HAAs. Because of this, they need to be a somewhat necessary “evil.”
As the WebMD article stated:
Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families in Washington, D.C., says that this issue has been around for a while. “We have drinking water and air regulations regarding the use of chemicals, but there is a big gap with what is happening with chemicals in general when they are used the way they are supposed to be used.”
This gap in knowledge can often be of concern to residential and commercial pool owners who want to ensure a safe environment for swimming. However, fear should not be the driving force that inhibits your enjoyment of swimming.
What You Can Do
The primary reason HAAs end up in these swimmers is the result of swallowing pool water while a minimal amount was taken in through inhalation or absorption through the skin. This puts more children at risk or adults who are not great swimmers not to mention pool professionals.
While the exact implication of HAAs on health in both the short and long-term is not known conclusively, there are some important points to remember:
- The American Chemistry Council has stated that a well-maintained pool has lower concentrations of HAAs than is found in drinking water, thereby considerably lowering the risk of exposure.
- Swimmers can do their part in reducing HAA exposure by not ingesting pool water. Simply keep their mouths closed. Adults should help younger ones learn to do the same when swimming.
- Test strips are readily available, which measure chlorine and pH or acidity levels in pools. Those in charge of a residential or commercial pool can test the water themselves or work with a pool professional who is trained to monitor these types of chemical readings.