Since its introduction to swimming pool water in 1910, chlorine has been praised for its incredible sanitizing potential, especially in preventing the spread of waterborne diseases like typhoid, cholera, and dysentery.
While it is useful in destroying harmful bacteria, it is also equally dangerous to human health, with warnings against its use stretching as far back as 1974.
What is chlorine?
Chlorine is a sterilizing agent that is used primarily in water filtration systems in public and household swimming pools.
It is a by-product of the production of sodium hydroxide, or caustic soda, which is used for making soap and glass products. It was introduced to the market in the 1890’s when it was discovered that it could help to sanitize water from poor-functioning sand filters, which often caused typhoid outbreaks. While typhoid fever was successfully reduced, in many cases people were found to develop infections and diseases from the chlorine itself.
Despite its high toxicity, chlorine became the United States Public Health service’s recommendation for the sterilization of public and residential swimming pools.
Chlorine exposure is primarily associated with an increase in the development of respiratory disorders, such as asthma, but has also been linked to causing neurological dysfunction, skin infections, frequent nosebleeds, eye infections, and gastrointestinal disorders.
Studies have also shown that chlorine exposure can also be linked to an increase in the risk of development kidney and colorectal cancer as well as damaging kidney and liver tissue.
Why isn’t it regulated?
Chlorine is a highly toxic chemical that should only be used in regulated amounts.
However, because there is no way to actually monitor the amount of chlorine in hotel, fitness center, public, and backyard swimming pools, there are no safety measures in place to protect people from exposure to it.
The only current regulation in place is the amount of chlorine that is found in drinking water, an amount that is monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency after research showed that it can cause cancer and birth defects.
How much exposure is harmful?
The University of Cordoba in Spain recently conducted a study to find out how chlorine exposure affects human health.
49 participants, both adults and children, were studied before and after chlorine exposure, whether they swam or were simply around the area of a swimming pool. All of them were found to have halo-acetic acids (HAA) in their urine after just 20 to 30 minutes of exposure and were still excreting it up to 3 hours later.
HAA’s are a type of chlorination disinfection by-product that enters the body through swallowing, inhalation or absorption through the skin. The participants who actually entered the water had up to 4 times more HAA’s in their urine, but those who were simply in the area also soaked up this harmful substance. Children had the highest levels, with scientists concluding that their younger, softer skin absorbed it much faster, which means that younger children are in the most danger when exposed to chlorinated water.
What should you do?
The head of the National Swimming Foundation in the United States, Thomas Lachocki, says that the health benefits of swimming in chlorinated water must be weighed against the risks of chemical exposure.
The best alternative is to make the switch to a saline/salt water pool, which could be costly at first, but will be a worthy investment for the benefit of your and your family’s health.
Ionization systems, a wide range of water filters, and keeping chlorine use at a low level is the next best option. While there are also chlorine-free chemicals available on the market, it’s advisable to first do your research to make sure that you aren’t simply trading one chemical for another.