Have you ever been to a pool and your eyes started to sting and turn red, or you got a whiff of a strong chemical smell and thought to yourself, “Wow, there’s a lot of chlorine in this pool?” It’s actually not the chlorine bothering you - it’s the chloramines.
The disinfecting action of chlorine on what comes out of swimmers (e.g. urine) or what washes off their bodies (e.g. sweat) creates chloramines. These chloramines irritate the eyes and respiratory tract, can aggravate asthma, and are also what give pools a strong chemical smell.
This chemical reaction uses up the chlorine in the pool, hence the importance of monitoring the chlorine “residual” at a proper range. Frequent pool water testing, automatic chlorinators and anticipating high swimmer usage ensure that proper levels are maintained and health issues are minimized. Chloramines can be reduced by “shocking” the pool with additional chlorine, ensuring proper ventilation and other methods known to the pool operators.
Even when the levels of chlorine and other pool water treatments are well maintained, they don’t always kill germs instantly. Cryptosporidium (or Crypto), the leading cause of disease outbreaks linked to pools, can survive in a properly chlorinated pool for 10 days.
While statistics on people becoming sick from water-borne diseases linked to outbreaks in pools, spas and water parks are notoriously difficult to collect, intuitively it’s important to keep germs and bodily waste out of the water in the first place.
Swimming is a great physical activity that can be enjoyed safely by people of all ages by adapting swimming behaviours that will protect yourself and others from water-borne illness. The aim is to reduce the formation of chloramines by taking a few simple and effective steps each time you swim:
- Shower with soap before you start swimming to remove all lotions and natural body oils.
- Keep the pee and poo out of the water.
- Don’t swim when you have diarrhea or have had diarrhea within the past two weeks. Even microscopic amounts of fecal matter can contaminate an entire pool or hot tub.
- Take frequent bathroom breaks.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
- Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes.
- Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area, not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.
- Don’t swallow the water you swim in.
Healthy swimming depends on what swimmers bring into – and keep out of – the pool. While pool operators and inspectors do have steps to take to keep people safe, you also need to play a role in keeping yourself and the swimmers around you healthy year-round.