In a society that tends to be pretty careful about sanitary conditions, pools seem pretty out-of-place, don’t they? A hole filled with water that hundreds of nearly naked people spend hours in everyday? How could that possibly work?
Everyone’s always reassuring themselves about the total safety and cleanliness of pools. It’s not that they’re wrong, exactly–pools do use a myriad of chemical and physical means of keeping the water clean–but they’re exaggerating a little. This is the real scoop on Swimming pools.
How Are Pools Cleaned?
When pool cleaners add Chlorine to pool water, it breaks down into chemicals like hypochlorous acid (HOCl) and hypochlorite ion (OCl). These chemicals kill bacteria by destroying their enzymes and “oxidizing”, or deactivating them. HOCl and OCl stay active and destroy new germs almost as fast as the germs can get into the water.
Pools also continuously pump water through a filtration system in order to remove larger particles. When the HOCl and OCl finish cleaning they combine with ammonia or break down, becoming harmless. Sunlight exposure breaks down HOCl and OCl faster. To keep a pool clean, managers must introduce 1 milligram of chlorine concentration per liter of water into the pool continuously.
How Well Does It Work?
Chlorine is a very effective cleaning and sanitizing agent, but it’s not the all-powerful germ destroyer we tend to think it is. Free chlorine can kill most bacteria in less than a minute. However, some disease-causing germs have varying levels of chlorine resistance.
The parasite Cryptosporidium can survive in chlorine-treated water for more than 10 days. In 2011 and 12, public health officials in 32 states reported 90 recreational water-associated outbreaks, 37 (or 54%) of which were a diarrheal illness caused by Cryptosporidium. While chlorine kills many common pathogens, swimming in public pools may expose you to various disease-causing germs.
How Can I Tell If A Pool Is Clean?
You might think that a strong “pool smell” means the water is sanitary. You’re not going to like this. The chemical producing the pool smell isn’t actually chlorine; a type of chloramine called “trichloramine” creates the smell. Chloramines happen when chlorine reacts with sweat, urine, hair, and skin. In other words, pool smell happens when there’s human pee, sweat, or skin in the water.
Chloramines are essentially watered-down chlorine. They choke out chlorine while performing its job less effectively. A strong pool smell ironically probably means the pool needs more chlorine. Make sure you can clearly see the bottom of the pool and that there isn’t anything growing on the surface of the water, too. If you’re really concerned, you can buy pool water quality test strips.
What Are The Dangers Of Dirty Pools?
Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are illnesses you can contract via germs in contaminated pool water. There are many different kinds of RWI, and they can cause a wide variety of infections. The most common RWI contracted from public swimming pools is diarrhea caused by Cryptosporidium.
The CDC reports that RWI outbreaks have increased substantially in the last two decades. From 2004 to 2008, Crypto cases increased by over 200%. A 2010 study reports 1 in 8 public pool inspections found serious code violations, including improper chlorine levels.
Why Haven’t I Been Affected By Dirty Pools?
Being infected by a RWI pathogen doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get sick. Swimmers with healthy immune systems can generally resist most of the germs at the pool. No two immune systems have the same level of strength, and no two pools have the same level of cleanliness. Maybe you only swam in relatively clean waters or when you were healthy.
Swimmers are more likely to contract RWI diseases if they’re pregnant or their immune systems are weak. Many RWIs, such as ear infections, affect children more than adults. Just because you haven’t been affected by an RWI before doesn’t mean you’re immune. All swimmers should be aware of health concerns before getting in the water.
How Can I Stay Safe While Swimming?
First, you could test the waters by either smelling for a strong pool smell or using a water quality test kit. Even if your water passes the test, think twice about swimming if you think you might be getting sick. Definitely don’t go swimming if you’re currently sick or you have an open wound.
Make sure you shower before entering the pool. Once you’re in the pool, avoid swallowing water and wear swimming goggles. It goes without saying, but don’t pee in the pool. After you get out of the pool, dry yourself thoroughly and change into dry clothes. Try to warm up your body quickly, and be sure to stay hydrated. Keep a close eye on your state of health for the next few days after swimming.
We hope this admittedly frightening info doesn’t scare you out of swimming. The truth is, engaging in any public activity could put you in contact with pathogens. Don’t swear off swimming; just take steps to keep yourself and your family safe when you go.
If all this pool talk has you worrying about your drinking water, let us know! The home repair experts at Ben Franklin Plumbing are ready and willing to make sure you’re getting the fresh, clean water you need. Have a great summer!
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