From: LiveScience Staff
Published July 27, 2010 08:40 AM

New Health Risk Found in Public Pools

Public swimming pools are more dangerous than you might think, a new study suggests. When sweat and urine, among other organics, mix with the disinfectants in pool water, the result can be hazardous to health.

The findings, announced this week, link the application of disinfectants in recreational pools to genetic cell damage that has been shown to be linked with adverse health outcomes such as asthma and bladder cancer.


Pool water represents extreme cases of disinfection that differ from the disinfection of drinking water as pools are continuously exposed to disinfectants. But with so many people cooling off and exercising in pools and water parks (339 million visits across the United States each year), the disinfectants are a must to prevent outbreaks of infectious disease.

Chlorine and pee don't mix

The problem occurs when the sanitizers mix with organic matter.

"All sources of water possess organic matter that comes from decaying leaves, microbes and other dead life forms," said study researcher Michael Plewa, University of Illinois professor of genetics. "In addition to organic matter and disinfectants, pool waters contain sweat, hair, skin, urine [1 in 5 adults admits peeing in the pool] and consumer products such as cosmetics and sunscreens from swimmers."

These consumer products are often nitrogen-rich, and when mixed with disinfectants, these products may become chemically modified and converted into more toxic agents.

Long-term exposure to these disinfection byproducts can mutate genes, induce birth defects, accelerate the aging process, cause respiratory ailments, and even induce cancer, according to the researchers. While the new study did not examine actual effects on humans, it suggests such research might be warranted.

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