Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Go Swimming This Winter!

Friday, January 6th, 2017

Looking for a fun way to stay fit this winter? Consider swimming in an indoor pool. Swimming provides a great workout for the whole body—core (including abdomen), arms, legs, glutes and back, according to WebMD. It helps increase flexibility and strength without taxing the joints, a welcome advantage for people with arthritis. And feeling buoyant in the water can be both relaxing and soothing, reducing mental stress.

Indoor Pool Air Quality

One potential deterrent to indoor pool swimming is the strong chemical odor around some indoor pools. We have addressed the phenomenon popularly known as “too much chlorine in the pool” numerous times, but it bears repeating here: The irritating chemical odor around some pools is not due to chlorine, but to certain substances formed when chlorine disinfectant combines with nitrogen-containing contaminants brought into the pool by swimmers.

To compound matters, inadequate air exchange over the pool contributes to the build-up of irritants in the indoor pool space. If your indoor pool air is irritating, speak to the pool manager about air flow in the room, but consider your own personal “swimmer hygiene” as well.

Why is chlorine added to pool water anyway? Chlorine-based disinfectants are needed to control waterborne germs, helping to keep pool water safe for swimmers. Chlorine’s presence is non-negotiable (it’s even present in “salt” pools), so to minimize irritants forming, swimmer hygiene must be addressed. Many swimmers do not realize how much influence their hygiene has on pool water quality. Swimmers should shower before entering the pool and refrain from “peeing in the pool.” Showering thoroughly with soap removes body oils, perspiration, makeup, lotions and traces of urine and fecal matter from the skin. When chlorine combines with these substances, there is less of it available to destroy the germs in the water that can make swimmers sick. Inadequate pool chlorine levels can lead to swimmer’s diarrhea and swimmer’s ear, for example. And peeing in the pool, no matter how stealthily it can be done, is not cool!

A Family Affair

Swimming can be a family affair. Parents, swimming is an “electronic gadget-free” activity! The pool is a unique environment in which to connect family members across the generations. The buoyancy of pool water is a great equalizer as older swimmers are able to avoid high impact to their aching joints. Older family members can help teach younger ones to swim and then race them across the pool.

Ensuring that each family member can swim is an investment that can pay dividends over a lifetime. In addition to being a life-saving skill, swimming can enhance the quality of life. A variety of outdoor recreational activities in and around the water, including boating, fishing, water-skiing and more, become available and enjoyable for confident swimmers.

So, as counter-intuitive as it may seem to locate your swim suit and goggles and head for the pool when the weather forecast includes ice and snow, consider the benefits and the fun of winter indoor swimming.

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West Nile Virus: A Seasonal Epidemic in North America

Friday, August 21st, 2015

West Nile Virus Activity by State – United States, 2015 (as of August 11, 2015)
Map courtesy of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This summer North America is once again experiencing a “seasonal epidemic” of West Nile virus that is expected to last through the fall.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the mosquito-borne virus has been reported in 42 US states as of August 11, 2015.  Fortunately, most people who are infected with the virus show no symptoms; about 20 percent of people infected develop mild symptoms (e.g., headache, body aches, joint pains, vomiting, diarrhea or rash) after three to 14 days.  Less than one percent of those infected become seriously ill (e.g., high fever, muscle weakness, neck stiffness, stupor, and potentially permanent or fatal neurological disease).  There are no medications to treat West Nile virus, nor vaccines to prevent human infection1Avoiding West Nile virus is primarily a matter of avoiding mosquito bites.

West Nile Virus Transmission

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, the West Nile virus cycles between mosquitoes and birds.  Mosquitoes become infected with the virus by biting infected birds; they then pass the virus to humans and other mammals through mosquito bites.  West Nile virus is believed to have been in the US since about 1999 when it was first detected in New York City, but human infections have been reported in many countries for over 50 years.  According to the World Health Organization website, the virus is found in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and West Asia, in addition to North America.

West Nile virus can kill some host birds when the virus concentrates in their blood.  Sightings of multiple dead birds could be a sign that the virus is circulating in the vicinity.  CDC notes reporting dead birds to county and state health departments may be helpful to West Nile virus monitoring activities.  Additionally, some health departments monitor mosquitoes for the West Nile virus, which may be supplemented by monitoring sentinel chickens and dead birds.  According to the CDC report, “West Nile Virus in the United States:  Guidelines for Surveillance, Prevention, and Control,” “Research and operational experience shows that increases in WNV [West Nile virus] infection rates in mosquito populations can provide an indicator of developing outbreak conditions several weeks in advance of increases in human infections.”  (The report is linked to this CDC website.)

Reducing Your Risk of West Nile Virus is a Three Step Process

  • First, know your inherent risk level. People over 50 years of age have a greater chance of developing serious symptoms of West Nile virus than those younger than 50.
  • Second, know when to expect the “enemy.” Many mosquitoes are most active from dusk to dawn; these are the hours during which special precautions may be warranted, including avoiding being outdoors.
  • Third, take steps to avoid mosquitoes and their bites.
    • When outdoors, use effective insect repellents; those containing DEET,  picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products may provide longer-lasting protectionfollow label directions for use (For more information on insect repellents and their effectiveness, please see
    • Wear long sleeves and long pants of tightly woven fabric; tuck pant legs into socks for extra protection
    • Inspect and repair screens on windows and doors
    • Remove standing water in flower pots, buckets, barrels, old tires, untreated kiddie pools and other containers that can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes
    • Make sure backyard pools are appropriately chlorinated; mosquitoes will not breed in chlorinated water
    • When you are outdoors, air movement around your body (from fans or natural breezes) disrupts mosquito flight and reduces your risk of being bitten.

Your local health department may provide additional information about protecting against mosquito-borne diseases in your area.

What to do if You Think You Have West Nile Virus

According to CDC, mild symptoms of West Nile virus will improve on their own without medical intervention.  Severe West Nile virus symptoms may require hospitalization.  West Nile virus is not spread from casual human contact, such as touching or kissing.  If you have severe symptoms and think you may be infected with the West Nile virus, seek medical attention immediately.

For more information on West Nile virus, please see

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Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

*WNV human disease cases or presumptive viremic (“viremic” is defined as the presence of a virus in the blood) blood donors. Presumptive viremic blood donors have a positive screening test, which has not necessarily been confirmed

† WNV veterinary disease cases, or infections in mosquitoes, birds, or sentinel animals.

1According to the World Health Organization, vaccines are available for use in horses.


Chlorine: The Cause of Irritated Eyes of Swimmers?

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Chlorine:  The Cause of Irritated Eyes of Swimmers?This poolside scenario will repeat itself many times this summer:

  • Child emerges from swimming pool and approaches parent, rubbing his/her eyes.
  • Parent takes one look at red-eyed child and exclaims, “There must be too much chlorine in the pool. Stay out of the water for a while.”
  • Child agrees reluctantly.

The belief that swimmers’ red, irritated eyes are caused by “too much chlorine in the pool” is an urban legend. The irritation is real, but it is more likely linked to poor swimmer hygiene than to high chlorine levels, a fact that surprises many.

Peeing in the Pool Can be Bad for Swimmer Health

Why Add Chlorine to Pools Anyway?

Good pool chemistry plays a key role in maintaining healthy pools for swimmers. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls chlorine and pH “the first defense against germs that can make swimmers sick.” In fact, when trace levels of chlorine are maintained in swimming pool water at the right pH, chlorine is on “guard duty” against a wide range of bacteria and viruses introduced into pools by swimmers that can cause a host of problems besides conjunctivitis, including gastrointestinal upset, swimmer’s ear and irritated skin. You can check for healthy pH and chlorine levels in your pool this summer by ordering a free pool test kit. Place your order at

The red eye myth is linked to another swimming pool fallacy, sometimes espoused by parents of young swimmers. That fallacy is that peeing in the pool is acceptable because “the chlorine takes care of it [it being the urine].” Peeing in the pool is not unusual: one in five American adults admit to “peeing in the pool,” according to our 2009 survey. The truth is that peeing in the pool can be bad for swimmer health because chlorine reacts with urine (and also feces, sweat, body oils and cosmetics, for that matter) to form products that are irritants and potentially worse. While researchers continue to probe the health effects of these substances–known as disinfection byproducts–they all agree that better swimmer hygiene can help prevent their formation.

Four Hygiene Tips for Showing a Little Kindness to Your Fellow Swimmer:

  1. Don’t pee in the pool! Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and make sure they know it is not alright to use the pool as a toilet.
  2. Check swim diapers of young children frequently and change diapers in facility restrooms, not poolside.
  3. Shower before swimming in the pool and help young children shower. Unshowered swimmers and hot tub users unwittingly contribute small amounts dirt, body oils, makeup, sweat and feces to the water, which add up in a crowded pool or spa.
  4. Encourage swim team coaches to permit swimmers to take bathroom breaks as needed.

Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

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Warning: Peeing in the Pool May Be Hazardous to Your Health

Friday, March 28th, 2014

We Don't Swim In Your Toilet So Don't Pee In Our PoolOne in five American adults admit to “peeing in the pool,” according to our 2009 survey. That news elicits a collective “Yuk!” from the public. Now, new research conducted by the China Agricultural University and Purdue University (Lian et. al, 2014) draws a direct connection between swimming pool urination and potential negative health effects for swimmers. The reasons to discourage peeing in the pool are adding up. Are swimmers listening?

The Problems with Peeing in the Pool

Most people correctly associate chlorine with pool chemical disinfection–destroying germs that can cause diarrhea, swimmer’s ear, and various types of skin and wound infections. There is no doubt that disinfectants, such as chlorine- and bromine-based products, UV, and ozone, help keep swimming pool water healthy and safe. Pool chemistry takes on a new level of complexity, however, when we add, of all things, swimmers.

Germs in Pee!

In addition to a chemical argument for not peeing in the pool, there is a biological one. Contrary to popular opinion, urine is not necessarily sterile. In fact, the urine of infected individuals can contain: norovirus; the parasitic worms that cause schistosomiasis; and the bacteria that causes leptospirosis, among other pathogens.

Swimmers introduce an assortment of organic chemicals to the pool, such as the compounds found in urine, perspiration, cosmetics and body oils. Many of these are nitrogen-based. When nitrogen-based organic compounds react with disinfectants, low levels of chemical byproducts are produced. These byproducts are the subject of much study. In some of the latest research, Lian et al. show that nitrogen-based organic compounds react with chlorine to form low levels of cyanogen chloride and trichloramine, compounds of potential health concern.

The researchers surmise that uric acid in pools, most of which originates from swimmer urination (the researchers call it “a voluntary action for most swimmers”), is a precursor to much of the cyanogen chloride present in pools. Cyanogen chloride potentially can affect the central nervous system, heart and lungs. Trichloramine is an irritant. Bottom line: peeing in the pool may be convenient, but it is not healthy.

Campaigns to End Peeing in the Pool

Public health and swimmer organizations are working hard to raise public awareness of the need for good swimmer hygiene. Notably, for the past several years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA Swimming and the National Swimming Pool Foundation, and our Water Quality & Health Council have been encouraging good swimmer hygiene. We think all swimming lessons should include a hygiene component that instructs students to:

  • Use the toilet and shower before swimming
  • Refrain from peeing in the pool
  • Refrain from swimming when you have diarrhea

Teach them young, and they’ll remember.

Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Swimming Pool and Spa Safety and Maintenance Resources

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Are you a backyard swimming pool owner looking to “bookmark” some online resources on pool and spa safety and maintenance? We searched the Internet and found the following sites that we hope will prove helpful:

  • Pools and Hot Tubs (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website): What would you do if you found a dead animal in your swimming pool? How long does chlorine take to destroy E. coli in the water? How does one care for inflatable and plastic kiddie pools? Need some tips on protecting yourself and your family from recreational water illnesses transmitted in hot tubs? This CDC website has all this and more.
  • Did You Know? A well-chlorinated hot tub has little odor. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem.
  • Home Pool Essentials (an online training course for $19.95): The National Swimming Pool Foundation teamed up with the American Red Cross to offer this online training course on home pool safety and maintenance. Safety topics covered include preventing drowning, diving injuries, recreational water illnesses and suction entrapment. Maintenance topics include instruction on how a pool works, how to ensure good water quality and how to add chemicals to water. The cost of the course includes a 30-page resource guide.
  • Did You Know? You should always swim with a buddy; do not allow anyone to swim alone. Even at a public pool or a lifeguarded beach, use the buddy system!
  • Pool Safety (Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) website): The CPSC Pool Safely campaign alerts consumers and industry professionals to the numerous water safety steps that can be adopted to significantly reduce child drowning deaths. The website includes information on the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act designed to prevent drain entrapment in public pools and spas.
  • Did You Know? An average of 390 children ages 0-14 drown in pools and spas each year. If a child is missing, look for him or her in the pool first.
  • Ask a Pool Operator (Water Quality & Health Council’s Health Pools website): Have a question on pool care that’s bugging you? Get a personalized response from an experienced pool operator.
  • Did You Know? According to a 2012 survey, although nearly all respondent said they would never re-use someone else’s bath water, almost seven in 10 admit they do not always shower before getting in the pool. Failing to shower before swimming adds contaminants to the pool that can lead to unhealthy swimming conditions.

Olympic Medalist Mom Teams up with CDC to Promote Healthy Swimming

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Olympic champion Amanda Beard is teaching her son proper swimmer hygiene while he learns to swim.
Olympic champion Amanda Beard is teaching her son proper swimmer hygiene while he learns to swim.
(photo from

Swimming in a properly maintained pool is a healthy and rewarding activity for people of all ages, but very few of us have the perspective of seven-time Olympic medalist swimmer and mom Amanda Beard. Beard recently partnered with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to encourage swimmers to protect themselves and their family and friends while swimming by promoting the Steps of Healthy Swimming:

  • Keep the poop, germs and pee out of the water.
    • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
    • Shower with soap before swimming.
    • Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
    • Wash your hands (include vigorous rubbing) after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.
    • The free chlorine levels should be between 1-3 parts per million and pH should be between 7.2 and 7.8.
    • This summer the Water Quality & Health Council is offering free pool test kits at
  • Don’t swallow the water you swim in.
  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30-60 minutes.
    • Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

Do the Math!

Beard’s strong focus on hygiene comes from the fact that if a swimmer fails to shower before swimming and brings feces into the pool, the pool could be contaminated with germs that cause illness. We know from a recent CDC study that fecal bacteria are present in over half of swimming pools tested. Another study estimated that a person who swims without first showering sheds an average of 0.14 g of fecal matter into the water. (Multiply the number of showerless swimmers by 0.14 g to get an estimate of the amount of fecal matter in your pool. Ugh.) Pathogens from fecal matter can infect swimmers who inadvertently swallow pool water, making them sick. And while chlorine disinfectants kill most waterborne pathogens within seconds, the process is not instantaneous, so there’s a lag time during which infection can potentially occur.

Teach Hygiene as Part of Swimming Lessons

We applaud Amanda Beard for spreading the word about the importance of swimmer hygiene. Beard is giving her three-year-old son swimming lessons and teaching him to do his part to keep the pool water clean. Swimming lessons are a wonderful gift that we can give to children to enjoy and benefit from throughout their lives. The younger they are when they learn to swim, the better. And while they are learning this life-saving skill, we suggest that all organized and informal swimming lessons include a hygiene component to help keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool.

Remember, showering is not just a courtesy to others, it also helps keep you
and your loved ones healthy!

Is There Good Chemistry in Your Pool?

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Pool with inflatable tubeThis summer many of us will spend some “down time” cooling off in a pool. Whether the pool is in your backyard, your community, or your vacation spot, chemistry is at your service to help ensure that your pool experience is a healthy one. Within seconds of application, chlorine-based pool sanitizers destroy most of the waterborne germs that can cause diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and skin infections in swimmers—maladies that threaten to turn your “down time” into “down and out” time.

For most pools, the fundamental chemistry that protects swimmers from germs is maintained when the pool water pH and the chlorine level are kept within prescribed ranges. Pool operators are obliged to monitor and maintain pH between 7.2 and 7.8 and the “free chlorine1” level between 1 and 3 parts per million. That’s good chemistry for a swimming pool—a chemistry that optimizes waterborne germ destruction while keeping swimmers comfortable.
water by swimmers.

You Be the Pool Inspector!

As pool season begins once again, the Water Quality & Health Council is happy to make free pool test kits available to the public. According to a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in eight public pool inspections conducted in 13 states resulted in pools being closed immediately due to serious code violations. If that makes you wonder how your pool would fare, consider ordering a free test kit at Each kit includes an easy-to-use test strip to dip into the pool and a color chart to help determine the pool water pH and free chlorine level. The kits can be used at any pool that applies chlorine-based sanitizers, including saltwater pools.

If your pool’s chemistry is “off,” tell your pool operator. If you are not satisfied with his or her response and you don’t think that anything will be done to improve the chemistry of the pool, contact your local public health department.

Have a fantastic summer and remember to pack a trusty pool test kit when you go to the pool. Don’t get in the water unless there’s good chemistry in the pool.

Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

1 Free chlorine is technically defined as a combination of hypochlorous acid and hypochlorite ion that forms when chlorine-based sanitizers are added to pool water. Free chlorine destroys algae and most waterborne germs. It also reacts with small bits of organic debris and impurities, such as substances added to pool water by swimmers.

Green Hair Caused by Copper, Not Chlorine — Myth Busted

Friday, May 17th, 2013

Swimmer wearing a swim capSwimmers, especially blondes, may be surprised – and even horrified – to discover that frequent pool use imparts a greenish hue to their hair. Typically chlorine in pool water is named as the culprit, sending the green-haired swimmer in search of products to remove the unwanted color or at least in search of a swim cap.

The green hair-chlorine connection is a firmly embedded myth: Almost half of respondents to our 2012 swimmer survey agreed that chlorine in the pool can turn hair green. We would like to expose this urban legend at its roots and offer an explanation of how it might have grown.

Copper, Not Chlorine, is Responsible for Green Hair

Green hair is caused by the presence of copper, not chlorine, in swimming pool water. Copper sulfate, for example, is added to pools to help control algae. Tiny particles of this greenish-blue compound can turn blonde or white hair green. Copper may also be leached into pool water from metal plumbing or from copper ionizer equipment and form copper sulfate in the water. One research study titled “The Green Hair Problem1” concluded that hair that had been extensively damaged–either by harsh cosmetic treatment or by exposure to sun and weathering–showed the highest degree of green coloration from absorbed copper.

To avoid an unwanted green tint:

  • Wear a swim cap, or
  • Use a shampoo formulated to help remove copper (yes, they exist) after swimming.

We suggest there could be a semantic reason for the chlorine/green hair linkage. The root “chloro” is Greek for “green.” Chlorophyll, for example, is the organic compound in plants that absorbs sunlight and lends a green color to leaves. In 1810 the chemical element chlorine was named for the greenish color of its gas. Nevertheless, chlorine does not impart a green color to pool water.

Chlorine is added to pool water to destroy bacteria, viruses and parasites in water that would otherwise put swimmers at risk for disease. Most chlorine is added to pool water in the form of compounds of chlorine that are either white solids or colorless liquids. Although some pools are designed to bubble chlorine gas into the water, the greenish chlorine gas reacts quickly with pool water to produce dissolved “free chlorine,” which is colorless.

Chlorine is a well-known pool chemical and its name implies the color “green.” We think it is conceivable that those two factors together helped shape a myth linking chlorine and green hair. Hopefully we have helped expose the roots of this myth and untangled the truth. Happy swimming!

1Bhat, G.R., Lukenbach, E.R., Kennedy, R.R. and Parreira, R.M. (1978). The green hair problem: A preliminary investigation, J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem., 30, 1-8.

The Chlorine Residual: A Public Health Safeguard

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Chlorine and chlorine-based disinfectants are used worldwide to destroy germs in drinking water and swimming pools. One of the reasons for the widespread use of chlorine disinfectants is that they provide a “residual” level of protection against waterborne pathogens. A chlorine residual is a low level of chlorine remaining in water after its initial application. It constitutes an important safeguard against the risk of subsequent microbial contamination after treatment—a unique and significant benefit for public healthi.

What happens to chlorine when it is added to drinking water or swimming pools? According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s Chlorine Residual Testing Fact Sheet, chlorine proceeds through a series of reactions:

  1. The Chlorine Demand is Satisfied: Upon initial dosing, chlorine reacts with any organic matter in water. The amount of chlorine used in these reactions is known as the “chlorine demand” of the water. Raw water taken from lakes and streams for drinking water treatment is likely to have a high chlorine demand based on the presence of natural organic material, e.g., decaying plant and animal matter. Groundwater, which normally contains far lower levels of organic matter, has a low chlorine demand.
  2. Combined Chlorine Forms: When the chlorine demand of the water is satisfied, some portion of the remaining chlorine reacts with nitrogen in the water to form compounds known as chloramines. Nitrogen-containing compounds may result from decaying organic matter in raw water secured for drinking water treatment. In swimming pools, swimmers add nitrogen-containing compounds to the water in the form of substances such as urine and perspiration. Chloramines may impart a chemical odor to water, which is sometimes inaccurately described as a “chlorine” odor. The chlorine that combines chemically with nitrogen and nitrogen-containing compounds is known as “combined chlorine.”
  3. Free Chlorine Destroys Germs: Chlorine remaining in water after the chlorine demand is satisfied and combined chlorine is formed is known as “free chlorine.” This is the chlorine portion available for disinfection. Many waterborne germs are either killed or rendered incapable of reproducing, helping to prevent waterborne disease outbreaks. The time required to destroy viruses, bacteria and parasites present in raw water at a given chlorine concentration varies with the organism and is known as the “contact time.”
  4. A Chlorine Residual Remains: Following a given contact time during which chlorine destroys germs, some chlorine remains in the water. This remaining, or residual level, acts as a safeguard against additional microbial contamination that, in the case of swimming pools, for example, could be introduced as more swimmers enter the pool. Chlorine and bromine are unique in their ability to impart this kind of protection. EPA requires all US facilities that treat water to maintain a chlorine residual of no more than 4 parts per million, whether chlorine is used as a primary disinfectant or not. Swimming pool operators generally maintain a chlorine residual of 1 to 3 parts per million. Swimming pools that are treated primarily with metal ions, such as copper, require a low level of chlorine to provide residual protection.

A Safety Marker Too

By monitoring the chlorine residual throughout a drinking water distribution system, water treatment operators can quickly identify points at which the residual declines or disappears. A sudden decline in the chlorine residual could indicate a leak in the drinking water distribution system. Swimming pool operators monitor the chlorine residual regularly. As the number of swimmers and conditions in the pool varies, the disinfectant level can be adjusted to maintain the chlorine residual.

In both drinking water and swimming pools, the chlorine residual represents a smart use of chemistry and provides a remarkable public health safeguard!

Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

iOne other disinfectant—bromine–provides a residual level of protection in water. Bromine is used in swimming pools, but more frequently in spas. It is not used in drinking water disinfection.

Great Water Quality: Gold for Olympian Swimmers

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

Olympic Screenshot
Watch the full video here.

Swimming is one of the most refreshingly beautiful Olympic events to watch. Thanks to modern communications technology, this summer we are treated to crystal-clear underwater images of the world’s elite swimmers as they vie for the Olympic gold.

Water plays a First Place role in the lives of professional swimmers: There is the water through which they swim and the water they must ingest to remain properly hydrated.

Swimming Pool Water Quality

The London Aquatics Centre houses two 50-meter swimming pools and a 25-meter diving pool. Altogether, the pools hold 2.6 million gallons of water (10 million liters). What technology is responsible for the sparkling water through which the athletes glide to glory or defeat? For one thing, pool water is circulated through efficient filtration systems. Additionally, water is treated with chemicals, including chlorine-based disinfectants to prevent swimmers becoming ill with diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and various skin infections that untreated water can transmit.

Chlorine-based disinfectants serve two purposes: They destroy algae and most waterborne germs, and they react with—oxidize—small bits of organic debris and impurities introduced into pool water by swimmers. Chlorine levels (usually 1 – 3 parts per million) are maintained in part by adjusting the pH, or acidity level of pool water. Pool operators maintain pool water pH in the slightly basic range of 7.2 to 7.8 in order to ensure good germ destruction by chlorine while keeping the water comfortable for swimmers.

Pool operators must carefully monitor pool water chemistry, as chlorine may be depleted by substances inadvertently added to the pool, including swimmer perspiration, body oils and urine (see Understanding Pool Chemistry).

Hydrating the Olympians

The athlete’s high daily intake of 4-6 liters of water per day makes safe drinking water an extremely important commodity for the professional swimmer. Water makes up over 50 percent of the weight of the human body. It lubricates and cushions the joints, serves as a “shock absorber” inside the eyes and spinal cord and regulates body temperature and blood volume. No athlete could reasonably compete without access to safe, life-sustaining water.

Before drinking water protections were perfected over a century ago, the population of London was regularly devastated by cholera outbreaks spread by contaminated water. Today, in that same city, thanks to appropriate watershed protection, water filtration and disinfection, Olympian swimmers soar through huge pools of clean municipal water. At the same time, athletes, visitors and residents of London alike enjoy the health-giving benefits of safe drinking water.

Kudos to the amazing swimming Olympians…and the abiding water quality technologies by which they, and we, thrive.