Unforeseen swimming pool danger? High chlorine levels can lead to respiratory illness

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Swimming pools could be causing respiratory problems due to high chlorine levels, according to new research. With summer in full swing and pandemic restrictions loosened this year, many people are rushing back to their area swim clubs. But there are concerns that if pools do not lower their use of chlorine disinfection byproducts, it could lead to health issues including asthma or a severe case of COVID-19 if infected.

Instead, scientists point to a process known as copper-silver ionization (CSI) as a way to ensure safe levels of chlorine in a pool.

Disinfecting swimming pool water is necessary, but chlorine can react badly with organic matter introduced by swimmers like sweat, urine, suntan lotion, or cosmetics and create disinfection byproducts (DBPs). Previous studies have linked these byproducts to health problems including respiratory issues, bladder cancer, and pregnancy and birth complications.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina collected water samples from pools, both indoor and outdoor, and found as many as 71 different DBPs. But they say there is a solution that can allow people to swim and not suffer from chlorine-related illnesses.

The researchers also collected samples from a pool that had been treated with a minimal amount of CSI. With this process, copper and silver ions are generated through electrolysis and introduced into the swimming pool water. Emerging DBP concentrations decreased by as much as 80 percent and toxicity decreased as much as 70 percent in the indoor pool when a lower chlorine residual and CSI were used.

“Encouraging swimmers to refrain from urinating in pools and taking further precautions like showering before entering pools could also limit the introduction of DBP precursors,” the authors explain.

“While the formation of DBPs and cytotoxic potency raises concern and should not be ignored, our goal is not to discourage swimming, as this is a well-established healthy form of exercise; rather, our aim is to make the swimming environment safer by seeking ways to lower the byproduct formation. The use of CSI with lower amounts of chlorine appears to be a promising way to accomplish this,” they add.

The study is published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science and Technology.

SWNS reporter Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

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