It seems like the perfect summer pursuit: a relaxing day spent in the pool. But scientific studies suggest that what appears to be a refreshing summer pastime could actually expose you to dangerous cancer-causing pool chemicals.
Research has found that swimming in chlorinated pools heightens bladder cancer risk by a shocking 57 percent.
Worse yet, when the cancer-causing components of chlorine are absorbed through the skin or lungs, the risk of cancer climbs even higher since there is no opportunity for detoxification via the liver.
Carcinogens lurking in the swimming pool increase the risk of bladder cancer
Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that swimming pool chemicals are detrimental to health, whether inhaled, ingested or even absorbed through the skin during typical swimming activity.
As the study’s authors noted, an increased risk of bladder cancer cases had already been associated with exposure of chlorine in drinking water.
The study looked not only at water consumption as a cause of bladder cancer, but also other water-related activities for 1,219 cases and 1,271 controls between 1998 and 2001.
Disinfectant byproducts, particularly trihalomethane or THM, were found to be common in chlorinated pools and posed a heightened risk of bladder cancer – as much as 57 percent greater.
Because absorption and inhalation bypass the liver, chemical exposure through skin or breathing in can be even more dangerous than with ingestion.
Chlorinated pools linked to additional health risks
In addition to its association with bladder cancer, chlorine and its byproducts have also been linked to a greater risk of skin cancers, particularly when exposure to pool chemicals takes place over an extended period of time.
Another cancer that has been associated with chlorine and its byproducts is colorectal cancer, most common during overexposure to treated water.
Additional studies have identified more health hazards related to chlorine and its byproducts. A study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine, for example, showed that exposure to traditional chlorine-based pool chemicals at the rate of 2-4 ppm constricted airways in the lungs, leading to breathing problems.
A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Pediatrics found that typical levels of chlorine present in pool water can increase a child’s risk of developing asthma by six-fold.
Even the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that continued contact with chlorine may be linked to asthma as well as other respiratory diseases, including epiglottitis – a potentially life-threatening inflammatory condition of the windpipe due to inhalation of chlorine fumes.
Eye infections are another side-effect of chlorinated water. Treated pool water can easily get into the eyes, especially when someone keeps their eyes open while under water, without goggle protection.
But the risks don’t stop there. Swallowing too much chlorinated water can lead to liver or kidney problems, while sodium hypochlorite found in chlorine and similar compounds have the potential to cause liver cancer.
Making swimming safe again
Problems with swimming pool disinfection and its link to cancer, asthma and other diseases, can be mostly avoided if the pool is disinfected using ultraviolet light or by using Sphagnum Moss – a natural way to keep your pool healthy and safe by avoiding the need for toxic chemicals.
If you have to use a chlorinated pool, researchers recommend seeking out a pool with low chlorine levels – since studies have found no potentially harmful effects of chlorine at a low concentration of 0.5 ppm.
When chlorine is kept at low levels, similar to that found in drinking water, side effects seem to be rare.
In addition, to minimize the negative effects associated with chlorine in public pools, shower immediately after swimming, avoid opening your eyes under water and limit the amount of swimming time overall for obvious reasons.