Baseball may be America’s favorite pastime, but the classic American way to beat the summertime heat is to head for a dip in the pool. However, a newly released report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may have Americans thinking twice before they dive in. In fact, the water seems to be anything but fine.
The CDC published a report late last month highlighting the increasing number of nationwide illnesses that have been linked to the bacteria, chemicals, viruses, and even parasites lurking in chlorinated pool water. Also contained in the report was a number of disturbing revelations.
For example, the all-too-familiar chlorine odor you smell when visiting a public pool isn’t really chlorine at all; it’s an indication that there’s feces, sweat and urine in the water, and the stronger the chlorine odor, the more body fluid is present. The chlorine-like odor is actually chloramines, which is an irritant that’s produced when chlorine and human body fluids combine. According to the CDC, those suffering from asthma or those who have chemical sensitivities should steer clear of public pools for this very reason, as chloramines have been known to aggravate asthma and may irritate eyes and skin.
As for the growing number of pool-related illnesses, the CDC classified them as outbreaks in the report. The CDC considers an illness an outbreak when two or more people exhibit gastrointestinal distress — any symptoms from gas and diarrhea — after being in the same location at the same time.
The CDC found that in 2011 and 2012, the last years for which this data is available, 32 states in addition to Puerto Rico reported 90 pool water-associated outbreaks which resulted in 1,788 cases, 95 hospitalizations, and one death.
Although chlorine is effective in killing off harmful pathogens such as E. coli in minutes, chemically treated pools aren’t much safer to swim in than beaches, lakes, or ponds where many water-borne illnesses are contracted. Chlorine-resistant bacteria was found to have caused the majority of the nation’s pool outbreaks, with the bacteria Cryptosporidium being named as the main culprit. Those who come into contact with Cryptosporidium can suffer from stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and vomiting for up to two weeks.
As terrifying as their report may seem, the CDC still maintains that swimming pools are safe enough to enjoy when used correctly. In addition to rinsing off with cold water before and after diving in, the CDC also recommends getting out of the water on a regular basis to use the bathroom, re-hydrate, and reapply sunscreen. Last but not least, the CDC advises pool-goers to avoid swallowing the water for obvious reasons.
In addition, residential or private pool owners are encouraged to run their pool pumps round the clock during the peak of pool season. While this may seem like a lot of energy, variable speed pumps allow pool owners to save upwards of 90% on annual energy costs compared to single speed pumps. Similarly, it’s common for community or public pools to run their pumps 24 hours a day throughout the pool season.