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  • What’s Lurking in Your Pool?
    There aren’t many better ways to spend hot summer days than at the pool or water park. But what are you really swimming in? You may be surprised and grossed out to find out what’s swimming in the water next to you or getting in your child’s mouth. Read >>
Health and Fitness News

What’s Lurking in Your Pool?

It looks clear and clean but could bacteria be hiding in the water?

There aren’t many better ways to spend hot summer days than at the pool or water park. The cool, blue water feels refreshing and provides endless hours of entertainment and opportunity for exercise. But what are you really swimming in? You may be surprised and grossed out to find out what’s swimming in the water next to you or getting in your child’s mouth.

While the following substances are likely hiding in your pool, don’t let them keep you from enjoying the water. This information is meant to help keep you aware and safe from illness.

Number One: Urine

Studies reveal that if there are people in a swimming pool, there’s also urine. You may think it’s only infants and toddlers who pee in pools, but the average person leaves behind an ounce or two of pee in the pool every time they swim. It’s not just a kid here or there, but a large number of people regularly use the pool as a potty.

Number Two: Fecal Matter

Unfortunately, swimmers aren’t always shower-fresh upon entering the pool and fecal matter gets washed off in the water. And you may be surprised, but swim diapers do a very poor job of protecting the water from contamination. Swimmers with a current case of diarrhea are the most likely to spread harmful bacteria into the water.

Number Three: Sweat

You’ve just mowed the lawn or exercised in the heat and you’re dripping with sweat. What’s more refreshing than a dive in the pool to rinse off and cool down? It’s not pleasant to think about, but anytime you’re swimming in a public pool you’re covering your body with other people’s sweat.

Number Four: Other Substances

Still want to jump in? Don’t forget about other things lurking in the water like skin particles, hair, saliva, sunscreen, and cosmetics. For many people, the pool acts as a big bathtub. Whatever’s on your body gets washed off to swim around in.

The Dangers

Swimming in all these delightful items doesn’t guarantee a trip to the Emergency Room. The danger comes when you accidentally swallow pool water. The bacteria and viruses found in bodily fluids and fecal matter can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, and just a small mouthful of contaminated water can lead to days or weeks of cramping, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and dehydration.

The good news and bad news is that most pools are cleaned with chlorine. This strong chemical kills off germs, but not instantly. When a pool is adequately chlorinated, it takes under a minute for E. coli to be killed, but 16 minutes to deactivate the Hepatitis A virus, 45 minutes to kill the Giardia parasite, and more than 10 days to eradicate a Crypto parasite.

Ever visited a pool with an especially strong smell of “chlorine” or suffered from red, stinging eyes after swimming? Despite what you may think, these effects are not the result of a well-chlorinated pool. Rather, it comes from the combination of sweat and urine mixed with chlorine. Urine, sweat, saliva, cosmetics, and sunscreen aren’t necessarily dangerous to swim in until they combine with chlorine. Chlorine is so commonly used you wouldn’t think it poses a danger, but mix chlorine with substances like those listed above and you get toxic compounds called disinfection by-products or DPBs.

Repeated, prolonged exposure to DPBs through swallowing, inhalation, or absorption through the skin is known to contribute to asthma, respiratory problems, skin issues, and damage to DNA (a risk factor for cancer). The more time you spend in a pool, the greater your risk of health issues associated with DPBs. Someone who occasionally swims during the summer is generally safe, while Olympic athletes, professional swimmers, lifeguards, and pool maintenance workers are most at risk.