The Two Faces of Swimming Pool Chlorine

Splash! Getting our kids physically active is a top priority for their short and long-term health, and swimming is a wonderful, fun way to do it. Public pools are typically treated with chlorine-based disinfectants to help keep kids safe from the spread of infectious diseases while swimming. A careful study published in the June 2003 issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine demonstrated a downside of these chlorines.

The layer of chlorine gases hovering just above the water has the potential to damage the lungs and cause asthma, if the levels are high enough. The chlorine that stings the eyes can also ‘sting’ the sensitive tissue of the lungs. At some pools the chlorine smell is oppressive. The risks are highest in indoor pools, and the lower the ceiling, the higher the risk.

In looking at 1,881 children, the researchers found a consistent direct correlation between the total cumulative time a child had spent splashing in an indoor pool and the risk that the child developed asthma. They also found that blood levels of lung proteins rose immediately after swimming; the protective membranes in the lungs had become temporarily open passages.

This doesn’t make me want to limit swimming – far from it! — but it does make me want to urge clean, fresh air. This means better ventilation at swimming pools, and exploring gentler methods to prevent infection such as better swimmer hygiene, better water circulation, and non-chlorinated disinfectants.

Published on: June 02, 2003
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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