Your Pool Chemical Safety
Summer is here, which means backyard Braai’s, and trips to the swimming pool! Whether it’s in your own yard or at a local pool, keeping a swimming pool clean and properly maintained with pool chemical safety is important to limit people’s exposure to recreational water illnesses (RWIs).
RWIs are caused by bacteria and other germs that spread by the swimmer swallowing or inhaling the water, or whilst swimming their skin contacting the contaminated water. The most common RWI is diarrhea, which can be caused by organisms such as Cryptosporidium, E. coli, and norovirus.
Research of Pool Chemical Safety
In the last two decades, there has been an increase in the number of RWI outbreaks associated with swimming pools. According to the health officials, reported RWI Cryptosporidium cases increased by over 200% from 2004 to 2016.
Chlorine and chlorine derivatives are the most commonly used disinfectants to treat swimming pools. Pool chlorinating agents are inorganic (ex. calcium hypochlorite) or organic (ex. chlorinated isocyanurates like trichloroisocyanuric acid or potassium dichloroisocyanurate).
Pool Chemical Safety Process
Pool maintenance teams and Owners must keep the chlorine concentration within a range that is high enough to effectively kill all germs yet low enough to avoid any injury to the swimmers.
Leisure Pools recommends keeping a free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm in pools and 3 ppm in a jacuzzi reaching an optimal pH also contributes to protecting swimmers from the spread of germs in pool water. If the pH or chlorine concentration is out of the recommended range, it can sometimes cause mild irritation to the skin and eyes of swimmers.
Now you may think, “What about the strong chemical odor that I smell when I’m at the pool? Is that safe?” The strong odor is not actually from the chlorine alone. When chlorine is added to a pool, it mixes with other things in the water, particularly from swimmers themselves (think of sweat, dirt, and yes, even urine and feces).
The mixing of chlorine and these compounds creates chloramines. Chloramines are irritants that are formed from the reaction of mixing the free chlorine (hence “chlor”) and amine groups (hence “amine”) from organic matter.
These are what cause extreme irritation to the skin and eyes after prolonged exposure. The fumes induce irritation of the respiratory tract causing coughing and breathing trouble. Because chloramine gas is heavier than air, it settles on top of the water, making it problematic for both swimmers and those nearby.
It can be especially troublesome for people who spend many hours in a pool (e.g. competitive swimmers) or those with pre-existing health problems (e.g. asthma or COPD).
Indoor pools increase the risk of experiencing irritation from the accumulation of these fumes because of the limited ventilation available. As pool-goers and owners, there are some important preventative measures that should be taken to help keep the experience of swimming in summer safe.
Swimming Pool Chemical Safety Idea’s
Consider wearing swim goggles and practice sanitary swimming pool etiquette:
- Do not go into the water if you are suffering from diarrhea.
- Do not urinate or defecate in the pool.
- Rinse off in a shower before you enter the pool.
- Do not drink the water as it contains chemicals.
For pool owners/maintenance teams
- Use chlorinating agents according to the product instructions.
- Ensure adequate ventilation is available for indoor pools and hot tubs.
- Use pool water test kits frequently to keep chlorine and pH levels within the recommended ranges.
- Store all pool chemicals in a temperature-controlled environment and away from any public access, direct sunlight, and water.
- Always wear personal protective equipment (e.g. gloves, goggles) when handling pool chemicals for pool maintenance.
Pool Chemical Safety Training
For pool maintenance teams, proper training on the handling and storage of pool chemicals is key. All aquatic facilities should have specific rules and procedures in place to ensure everyone’s safety. Most brief exposures result only in mild irritation, but if left unaddressed or from larger scale exposures, chemical burns, burns to the surface of the eye, and serious respiratory illness can occur.
Pool Chemical Exposure Safety Steps
If someone has been exposed to a pool chemical, it is very important to remove them from the area to fresh air. Most often, skin and eye exposures will respond to immediate water irrigation of the affected area.
As a pool-goers, it’s important to know of the potential health effects from being exposed excessive amounts of chloramine. If you or someone you know starts feeling irritation from the fumes, immediately move away from the water and into fresh air.
If there is an irritation to the skin, rinsing off in a shower should help reduce discomfort. If the eyes are red and burning from direct exposure, irrigation with water in a shower or at an eye station for 15 minutes is recommended.
If anyone experiences difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, or any persistent pain or discomfort of the skin or eyes, then call for medical help immediately.
They can address these symptoms at an emergency room or by your doctor at his practice with a breathing treatment and further eye irrigation.
There is nothing more refreshing than cooling off on a hot summer day with a long dip in the pool. By knowing the potential risks and best preventative practices, we can all do our part to keep this fun activity safe and enjoyable for everyone. And remember……. Do Not Pee in the Pool!