Chlorine, the chemical used to disinfect swimming pools, has already been linked to asthma (spend more than an hour per week swimming, indoors or out, and a child's risk of asthma increases tenfold).
Inhaling fumes is only one of the ways chlorine pool chemicals can cause health problems, as a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report demonstrates.
In the past 20+ years in New York, one of the few states that requires reporting of health incidents at public pools, the vast majority (94%) of reported illnesses were respiratory. Most of these incidents were caused by the mixing of chlorine with an acid, which creates highly hazardous chlorine gas.
Nationally, more than 4,000 cases of pool-chemical illness have been reported annually to the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the past decade, with roughly one-third reporting respiratory symptoms and 19% reporting eye irritation. Poison Control Centers receive many more complaints: more than 9,500 in 2007 alone, with two in every five cases involving children under the age of 6.
The CDC report emphasizes that these incidents can be prevented with proper storage and handling of chemicals, and with proper education of pool workers and bathers:
The [New York State Department of Health] reports illustrate that these health events at public aquatic venues can injure a large number of persons and likely are preventable through appropriate education and training (e.g., instructing persons to never mix chlorine products with acid). Previous studies underscore that requiring pool operator training can reduce the number of water-quality violations. Future prevention efforts should require training for all public pool operators. The disproportionate (86%) number of pool chemical-associated health events occurring in settings where pools were not the primary focus (e.g., schools or hotels) specifically calls for emphasizing training efforts in these settings. Additionally, because at least 43% of [hospital emergency department]-treated, pool chemical-associated injuries occurred at a residence, messages about safe chemical handling and storage, particularly the use of personal protective equipment (e.g., safety glasses and appropriate masks), also should target residential pool owners.
The report's findings also, however, underscore the inherent toxicity of pool disinfection chemicals.
If you're installing a pool, consider a natural pool. If you already have a pool, carefully consider recommendations for safe pool chemical handling and storage from the Environmental Protection Agency and the CDC. Be sure to download and read those materials thoroughly. Here is a quick look at the main recommendations:
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.