Pool Chemistry: Facts About Healthy, Safe Swimming

In South Florida, swimming is a year-round activity, either at the beach or the pool. But the end of school marks the beginning of many more days at community and private pools for kids and parents alike.

“Healthy and Safe Swimming Week” is observed May 20-26, 2019 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This year’s theme is “Pool Chemistry for Healthy and Safe Swimming.”

In addition to making sure kids are well-supervised when in the water, the CDC this week is focusing on potentially unseen health hazards. Chemicals like chlorine are added to pool water to kill germs and stop them from spreading. However, mishandling pool chemicals can cause injuries, the CDC states.

Operators of public pools, hot tubs/spas, or water playgrounds — and owners of residential pools or hot tubs/spas — can take steps to prevent pool chemical injuries, such as reading and following directions on product labels of pool chemicals before using them, the agency emphasizes.

The CDC does not mince words in its warning to swimmers and parents of young swimmers or kids just flopping around in the water.

“When swimmers don’t shower before getting in pools, hot tubs/spas, or water playgrounds — or pee in the water — free chlorine (the form of chlorine that kills germs) combines with pee, poop, sweat, dirt, and personal care products,” states the CDC. “This means there is less free chlorine to kill germs and (as a result) unwanted chemical compounds are produced.”

One of those unwanted chemical compounds is a group of irritants called chloramines, which can makes eyes red and sting, skin irritation and rashes, and respiratory problems, the agency states. These chloramines are different from the type of chloramine that is sometimes used to treat our drinking water.

With the start of rainy season in June, standing water can also become a health issue in certain neighborhoods that can easily flood. Floodwater may be full of bacteria, viruses and parasites that can lead to different types of infections, especially for kids or teens who might be tempted to play in that standing water.

“Children are especially vulnerable to chemicals that disrupt normal growth and development,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., medical director of the Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital and associate medical director of Pediatric Emergency Services at West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “Additionally, their brains are highly susceptible to the neurotoxic chemicals that can be present in floodwater, so it is imperative to keep them out of it.”

Tips for Healthy Swimming

As far as public pools, hot tubs and spas are concerned, here are tips from the CDC:

  • Check out the latest inspection score assigned to a public pool or hot tub/spa. You can typically find inspection scores online or on-site.
  • Do your own mini-inspection. Use test strips to check disinfectant (chlorine or bromine) level and pH before getting in the water. Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell test strips.
  • Shower before you get in the water. Rinsing off in the shower for just one minute helps get rid of most stuff that might be on swimmer’s body.
  • Check yourself! Keep the pee, poop, sweat, blood, and dirt out of the water.
  • Don’t swim or let children swim when sick with diarrhea.
  • Don’t swallow the water. Just one mouthful of water with diarrhea germs can make you sick for up to 3 weeks.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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