Toxic Swimming Pools?

Toxic Swimming Pools?

The Mail Online reports on the problems facing swimmers who regularly swim in chlorinated water: Chlorine has been widely used to disinfect our water supply in the UK and most other developed countries for more than 100 years.

Chemical analyst and forensic toxicologist Dr Nitin Seetohul, of Nottingham Trent University, says: ‘When added to water, chlorine is incredibly efficient at destroying a broad spectrum of dangerous water-borne bacteria and viruses, to the extent that it is widely credited with wiping out diseases such as typhoid and cholera in developed countries.’

‘I have been campaigning to change the way we keep our swimming pools clean for the past 25 years,’ says Dr Wright.

‘There are other, gentler ways of disinfecting swimming pools – such as ozone filtration, which involves pumping oxygen, in the form of ozone gas, through the water and then filtering it.’

The problem, in fact, is not chlorine itself, but the chemical by-products – chloramines – that occur when chlorine combines with nitrogen in the dirt and detritus found in swimming pools, such as skin particles, sweat, urine, bacteria and body oils. 

Dr Wright adds: ‘It’s these toxic by-products that give off that tell-tale “bleach” smell we associate with swimming pools and cause problems.’

The stronger the smell, the more unhealthy the pool is likely to be. Have a shower before swimming to remove any make up, dry skin flakes, hair products and body lotion. These residues can also react with the chlorine to create chloramine irritants.

An occasional swim is unlikely to do much harm, unless you are particularly sensitive to chlorine. But experts suggest anyone who swims once a week or more should be wary.


A …recent study of 50 elite athletes, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that almost all the swimmers they examined had inflamed lung tissue, with those who spent the most time in chlorinated pools showing most changes.

‘Although more research is needed, it is thought that chlorine and it’s by-products, when inhaled or swallowed, can attack the cellular barriers in the lungs that protect them from allergens,’ says Dr Wright. This is why some experts believe persistent exposure to chemicals in cleaning products such as chlorine may also be responsible for the increase in allergies in the past 50 years.


Poorly maintained chlorinated swimming pools, have also been found to be responsible for ‘rapid and excessive’ dental erosion in keen swimmers.

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