Archive for the ‘Pools’ Category

How to Drain a Residential Swimming Pool

Friday, September 18th, 2015

Summer’s nearly over and many backyard swimming pool owners will soon undertake their annual “pool draining ritual.” Draining the water helps prevent damage to pools in geographic areas subject to freeze-thaw cycles. This article provides information to help you drain your pool responsibly.

What’s the Big Deal?

It’s easy enough to fill your pool with water, so why is draining it a big deal? First, all summer your swimming pool water has been treated with chemicals to help keep it safe for you and your family. Chlorine-based sanitizers, for example, probably were used to help destroy waterborne pathogens that can cause diarrhea, swimmer’s ear and skin infections. These germs can enter the pool on the bodies of swimmers and in animal feces. Chlorinated pools also prevent your backyard pool from becoming a mosquito breeding ground; mosquitoes potentially spread diseases like West Nile virus. But the same low levels of chlorine-based sanitizer that help keep pool water safe for your swimmers can be harmful to fish and wildlife.
The second reason to stop and think before you pull the plug is to consider the sheer volume of water and where it will flow to or pond outside the pool. Will it flow onto your neighbor’s property? Will it pond in a depression? Are you planning to drain your pool directly into a sewer? Better find out what type of sewers are nearby. A storm sewer will channel your pool water directly into a natural stream or other body of water with no treatment. Only sanitary sewers channel wastewater flow to treatment facilities.

This storm sewer in Montgomery County, Maryland bears a sign that indicates water flowing into it drains into Rock Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, and warns residents not to pollute.

Tips to the Drainers

  • Consult your local municipal Department of Environment Quality for specific guidelines or codes. The US Environmental Protect Agency (EPA) website highlights, for example, Montgomery County, Maryland’s Department of Environmental Protection guidelines.
  • According to an Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Fact Sheet, if possible, swimming pool water should be sent to a treatment plant via a sanitary sewer. This is most important for large (especially community) pools, and happens automatically when in-ground pools are built with a drain that goes to a sanitary sewer.
  • If drainage to a sanitary sewer is not possible, water may be allowed to evaporate to a lower level for the winter, if desired, or disposed of on the ground or used to irrigate your property. Water should be released, however, only after the pool owner stops adding chlorine or other treatment chemicals, or shuts off the chlorination system and holds the water in the pool for at least one week while chlorine levels drop.
  • When disposing of pool water on the property or using it to irrigate your property, do so in a manner that water will not flow off your property or into a stream or storm sewer.
  • When disposing of pool water on your property, do so in a manner that water will not pond for a prolonged period, resulting in nuisances such as odors and insect breeding conditions.
  • If discharge to the ground will result in flow to a stream ditch or storm sewer, increase the holding time of water in the pool with no added chlorination to at least two weeks to allow chlorine to dissipate.
  • Use a pool test kit to measure the chlorine level of the pool water prior to draining to ensure there is no detectable chlorine level (for example, the Washington, DC Department of Energy and Environment website indicates less than 0.1 mg/l free chlorine is acceptable). A longer holding period may be necessary if free chlorine levels are above 0.1 mg/l.

Happy Swimming Pool Winterizing!

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.

Click here to download this article.

What to do about Bird (and Other) Droppings in the Swimming Pool

Friday, August 7th, 2015

There’s nothing like a swim in an outdoor pool in beautiful summer weather. As the open air is the domain of nature’s flying creatures, however, the occasional splat of bird droppings in the pool is to be expected. What, if anything, needs to be done about bird droppings in the pool?

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, many germs that might be present in bird droppings can infect humans, although few, if any, outbreaks have been associated with bird droppings. Duck and goose droppings are highlighted by CDC as potentially containing E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter or Cryptosporidium. Fortunately, in a well-maintained pool most pathogens in bird droppings are killed by chlorine within minutes, according to CDC. Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite surrounded by a tough chlorine-resistant outer shell, can be removed by a well-maintained pool filtration system.

Addressing Bird (and Other Types) of Droppings in the Pool

CDC recommends pool managers and backyard pool owners treat bird droppings in the pool in the same way that they would respond to finding formed human feces in the pool. The goal is to remove the waste material, if possible, and disinfect the water by taking the following steps:

  • Close the pool to swimmers.
  • Put on disposable gloves.
  • Remove the waste material using a net or bucket. Do not vacuum the waste from the pool.
  • Clean off any debris or dirt from the item used to remove the waste.
  • Disinfect the item used to remove the waste by immersing it in the pool during the 30-minute disinfection time described below.
  • Remove and dispose of gloves.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately.
  • Raise the free chlorine concentration to, or maintain it at, 2 parts per million (ppm); maintain the pH level at 7.5 or less; keep the temperature at 77°F (25°C) or higher. The free chlorine and pH should remain at these levels for 30 minutes.
  • Confirm that the filtration system is operating properly.

How to Discourage Birds around the Pool

CDC provides the following tips for discouraging birds (not the duck and geese varieties) from frequenting the pool area:

  • Remove plants that produce edible nuts, fruits, and berries.
  • Remove bird feeders.
  • Trim or remove trees and shrubs to limit branches hanging around or over the pool that can be used by roosting birds.

To discourage ducks and geese:

  • Do not keep domestic ducks and geese in the pool area to decrease the likelihood of wild ducks and geese becoming attracted to the area.
  • Do not feed ducks or geese.
  • Ducks and geese eat grass. If possible, reduce the area of grass lawns around the pool or install barriers that control movement between the pool and grass lawns, such as fences, grid wires and hedges. Noise makers, goose repellents and trained dogs can also be used to discourage non-migratory or resident geese from becoming a nuisance.

Happy swimming! For more information on addressing animals and pools, please see this CDC website. For further information on waste products in pools, please see the CDC’s Fecal Incident Response Recommendations for Pool Staff, linked from this CDC web page.

Bob G. Vincent is an Environmental Administrator in the Florida Department of Health. He manages Department of Health programs for Healthy Marine Beaches, Safe Drinking Water, Water Well Surveillance and Public Pools and Bathing Places.

To download a copy of this article, click here.

Avoiding Norovirus at the Lake

Friday, June 26th, 2015

 Norovirus, the notorious “stomach bug,” can spread like wildfire  through homes, schools, healthcare facilities and cruise ships.  According to a recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus also can be spread among swimmers in natural water bodies. In July, 2014, 70 people became ill with norovirus after swimming in Oregon’s Blue Lake, on the outskirts of Portland.  More than half of these were children between four and ten years old.  A CDC investigation found those who swam in the lake over the course of one weekend were more than twice as likely to develop vomiting or diarrhea as those who visited the lake but did not go in the water.  The outbreak was the subject of public communication during CDC’s 2015 Healthy and Safe Swimming Week1.

Anatomy of an Aqueous Outbreak

Last summer’s norovirus outbreak in Oregon probably started after a sick swimmer had diarrhea or vomited in the lake, dispersing numerous norovirus particles into the water.  Other swimmers then inadvertently swallowed water contaminated with norovirus. Unlike treated recreational water venues such as pools and water parks, natural waters do not contain disinfectants that can destroy norovirus and other pathogens.  Even in properly treated venues, however, disinfectants take time to work, so one should never assume pool water is completely germ-free.

Norovirus is the second-leading cause of waterborne illness outbreaks in untreated recreational waters. The leading cause is the bacterium Shigella.

Blue Lake was closed to swimmers for ten days to prevent further norovirus cases, but CDC noted its investigation highlighted a need for guidance for public officials to help them determine when to reopen recreational water venues following outbreaks.  We agree this should be a priority, especially given the fact, as CDC notes, that there is evidence norovirus can survive in water for several months, and even years.

Healthy and Safe Swimming

The CDC report also noted a need for communication tools to inform the public about the risks associated with swimming in untreated recreational water venues, including the ocean, lakes, ponds and rivers.  Many of the same tips for avoiding waterborne illness in treated venues, such as swimming pools, apply to lakes and ponds, including:

  • Don’t swim if you have diarrhea or have been vomiting.
  • Don’t urinate or defecate in the water.
  • Don’t swallow lake water.
  • Take children on frequent bathroom breaks.
  • Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–to keep germs away from the water.

We submit the following additional tips for healthy swimming in untreated recreational water venues:

  • Do not swim in waters posted as “no swimming” zones.
  • Avoid swimming after a heavy rain to avoid exposure to sewage from overflowing sewage treatment systems or contaminated runoff.
  • Limit the amount of water going up your nose to reduce your chance of contracting a rare but deadly Naegleria fowleri amoeba infection. These infections have been documented in people who swim or dive in warm fresh water venues.
  • Check with local health or environmental officials if you are unsure about swimming in a natural body of water.
  • Shower after swimming.

For more information on swimming in natural water bodies, see the CDC website, Oceans, Lakes & Rivers and the linked US Environmental Protection Agency’s brochure, “Before You Go to the Beach” at:

Click here to download this article.

1 Formerly known as “Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week,” this year the annual observance occurred May 18-24, 2015.

Swimming Pools Myths Busted over the Airwaves

Friday, June 19th, 2015

We recently completed our annual Healthy Pools “radio media tour” of 23 radio stations across the US, during which we dispelled common swimming pool myths and promoted tips on staying healthy in the pool this summer.  Here are some highlights from the tour:

MythThere is a dye that is used to identify swimmers who pee covertly in the pool.

There is no dye in pool water to indicate the presence of pee (pockets of warm “water” may be an immediate, but fleeting give-away).  Rather, swimmers are on the “honor system” when it comes to getting out of the pool to use the bathroom.  We highly recommend doing this (see below).

Myth:  Swimmer’s eyes turn red when there is too much chlorine in the pool.

Too much chlorine in the pool would be irritating to the eyes, but chlorine itself is not the common cause of swimmer “red eye.”  Swimmers’ eyes redden from irritants–known as chloramines–produced when urine and sweat in the pool combine chemically with chlorine pool disinfectant.  To quote Dr. Tom Lachocki of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, “Swimmers’ eyes are the real color indicator that someone might have peed in a pool.”

For a healthy experience in the pool: shower before swimming to remove sweat, dirt, cosmetics and trace fecal matter (yes, we all carry some, so please shower thoroughly).  The pre-swim shower and frequent bathroom breaks can go a long way toward letting chlorine carry out its critical role of killing germs in the pool instead of having to bind with the various impurities swimmers add to pool water.

Use Your Senses and Use Pool Test Strips

Over the course of our interviews, we repeated these simple tips on using your senses to evaluate the “health” of a swimming pool:

Sight:  Make sure you can see clearly through the water to the floor of the pool.

Sound:  If you are near the mechanical room, you should be able to hear the pool pumps operating to circulate the pool water.   For larger pools, pumps might not be as audible.  In that case, you should be able to feel water being pumped into the pool in various locations, especially near the bottom of the pool.

Smell:  A properly maintained pool should have NO HARSH CHEMICAL odor.

Touch:  Tiles on the sides of the pools should feel smooth and clean, NOT SLIMEY.

Taste:  Avoid getting water in your mouth and swallowing it.

Finally, pool test strips are a simple tool swimmers can use to check the pH and free chlorine level of pool water. Order a free pool test kit at

Happy Swimming in Healthy Pools.  Over and out!

 Click here to download this article.

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. Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

Saluting Our Fallen Heroes with Swimming Lessons for Children

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Jerod M. Leob 

Swimming is a skill that can provide endless enjoyment, help keep you fit, and even save your life.  As a group of public health and safety professionals, we have been strong proponents of healthy swimming for nearly 25 years.  We believe all children should learn to swim, and that is why we are so impressed with the Angels of America’s Fallen project (AoAF), brought to our attention by the National Swimming Pool Foundation.

The non-profit AoAF project helps provide “wish list” activities, like swimming lessons, to the children of fallen soldiers and first responders.  The project recognizes and strives to fill the gap in the lives of children of fallen heroes.  We are especially proud that a donation will be made to AoAF by the American Chemistry Council’s Chlorine Chemistry Division in our honor as a tribute to one of our own fallen, Jerod M. Loeb, PhD.

Jerod was an active member of the Water Quality & Health Council for over 20 years, and a treasured friend.  His life was not stopped short by an enemy bullet on the battlefield or in trying to save a life, but by cancer on October 9, 2013.  Jerod was a tireless soldier for public health and safety.  In his professional capacity at The Joint Commission, he worked to improve hospital performance and patient safety.  This role took on new meaning as Jerod transitioned from health care administrator to health care recipient during his final illness.  Jerod was also a volunteer first responder.  A graduate of the Buffalo Grove Citizen’s Fire Academy, he was a fully trained member of the Buffalo Grove Community Emergency Response Team.  In 2005, Jerod was appointed Commissioner of Fire and Police for the municipality of Buffalo Grove.

We miss our friend terribly, both professionally and personally.  We respectfully place Jerod in the ranks of America’s fallen heroes, and honor his memory with the very real tribute of children of other fallen heroes becoming proficient swimmers.

Angels of America’s Fallen is a 501(c)(3) public charity headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Click here to download this article.

Safe Fun in the Kiddie Pool

Friday, May 29th, 2015

A Word to the Wise: If you plan to leave the end of a garden hose submerged in the pool, remember that not all states require backflow preventers on hoses. Without a backflow preventer, it is possible that tainted pool water will flow back into the drinking water system when the hose is turned off. 

Kiddie pools can bring hours of delight to young children on a hot summer day.  But unlike larger pools, small plastic and inflatable kiddie pools are normally not equipped with water filters or treated with chemicals that remove germs and balance pH.  Add to this the fact that hygiene is not a strong suit of the kiddie pool set, and a few helpful tips are in order for safe fun in the kiddie pool:

  • Fill the pool with fresh water before each use:  Without the benefit of chemical treatment, kiddie pools must be refilled with fresh tap water before each use.  When my children were small, I would fill the pool with water early in the morning and let it warm up for a few hours before letting the children go in.  Naturally, adult supervision is needed around the water-filled pool.
  • Bathe children before they enter the pool: This may sound counterintuitive, but without bathing children first, the risk of their contaminating the pool with pathogens rises.  Without getting too graphic, the diaper and underpants area are the source of most of the pathogens that can make kids sick.  Change diapers as needed, and keep in mind that swim diapers or swim pants are not leak-proof.  If your little swimmer is potty trained, build in some bathroom breaks to avoid “accidents.”
  • Sick children should not be in the pool with other children: A child who is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting must not be allowed in the pool with other children. If a child becomes sick in the kiddie pool, a quick exit of everyone from the pool is in order.  The pool must be emptied of water, cleaned and disinfected before being used again (see the next tip). 

Do You Bathe Your Children Together?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website notes children from the same family or household who are often bathed together are unlikely to be at increased risk of spreading diarrheal illness to each other when using the same inflatable or plastic pool. Allowing larger numbers of children from different families to use these pools, however, is likely to increase the risk of spreading diarrheal illnesses.

  • Clean and disinfect the kiddie pool after each use: Drain or empty the pool after each use. Leaving the pool full overnight is unsafe, both because it is a potential drowning risk and a potential waterborne disease risk.  (Did I mention there are no disinfectants in the water?)  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends cleaning the pool after it has been used, and once dry, leaving it in the sun for at least four hours.  The ultraviolet rays of the sun can be effective at destroying pathogens.  Alternatively, if manufacturer’s directions agree, the kiddie pool interior can be cleaned and then disinfected with a simple chlorine bleach solution.  For example, the “How to Clean Stuff” website1 recommends using a solution of one part bleach to five parts water. Rinse the pool well after this treatment. 
  • Don’t drink the kiddie pool water: Discourage children from drinking pool water from kiddie pools or from any pool, for that matter.  After all, we know from a 2009 Water Quality & Health Council survey that approximately one in five adults admit to having peed in the pool–a habit that might have started in the kiddie pool.  Distracting young children with a “sippy cup” of a favorite beverage may help, but don’t be surprised if the beverage ends up poured over somebody’s head! 

Here’s to a happy, healthy and safe fun in the kiddie pool.

Click here to download this article.

 Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, FSHEA is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.

1 Although the “How to Clean Stuff” website recommends draining kiddie pools only once per week, I strongly recommend draining the pool immediately after use.

Sharing Only the Fun in the Pool

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

For many, a refreshing dip in the pool is a welcome rite of summer. With this “rite” come swimmer responsibilities.  To mark this year’s Healthy and Safe Swimming Week1, we explore the topic of swimmer hygiene.  Warning:  this discussion is somewhat graphic, but it is meant only to encourage healthy swimming.

Swimmers Affect Pool Water Chemistry

Healthy swimming requires healthy pools. It is the pool manager’s responsibility to maintain proper pool chemistry, including appropriate pH and chlorine levels.  But did you know that swimmers can affect pool chemistry just by entering the pool?

As pool water contacts skin, perspiration, dirt, body oils and cosmetics are washed into the water.  Swimmers may also introduce pathogens (disease-causing germs), particularly from the perianal area (the area of skin around the anus), and especially if the swimmer has not showered appropriately.  CDC makes the point (see the CDC brochure, “Share the Fun…not the Germs, and Make a Healthy Splash”) that babies in diapers, even swim diapers and swim pants, may contribute urine or fecal matter to the water, as these items are not leak-proof.  Additionally, some swimmers believe it is ok to “pee in the pool.”  Taken together, that’s a lot of “chemistry added.”  Not to mention pathogens, the “biology added.”

The Role of Chlorine

You may ask:  Doesn’t chlorine control the germs in pools? Why be concerned? Chlorine-based disinfectants do destroy most waterborne pathogens.  Impurities introduced by unhygienic practices deplete chlorine, however, leaving everyone at greater risk for infection if chlorine levels are not carefully maintained.

Swimmers can help keep pool water safer for everyone by showering before swimming and not peeing in the pool.  Additionally, anyone experiencing diarrhea should stay out of the pool, and swimmers should avoid swallowing pool water.  As CDC notes, just one mouthful of “germy water” is enough to sicken some people.

Swimmers Can Monitor Pool Chemistry

You can keep tabs on pool water chemistry by using pool test kits to monitor the pH and chlorine level.  Every summer, the Water Quality & Health Council makes these kits freely available to the public (one to each household) at  The kit includes color-coded test strips for dipping into pool water and instructions for interpreting the results.  If readings for the public pool you visit are off, see the pool manager and don’t swim until levels are corrected.  If levels are not satisfactorily corrected, contact the local public health department, as they have the authority to regulate public pools.

Backyard and community pools bring friends and family together in one of the few remaining environments in which smart phones and tablets are not a major distraction—a refreshing thought!  Armed with a greater awareness of swimmer hygiene issues, we hope your pool experience will be refreshingly healthy.

Download or order the CDC brochure, “Share the fun…not the germs, and make a healthy splash!

 Bob G. Vincent is an Environmental Administrator in the Florida Department of Health. He manages Department of Health programs for Healthy Marine Beaches, Safe Drinking Water, Water Well Surveillance and Public Pools and Bathing Places.

Click here to download this article.

1Healthy and Safe Swimming Week is May 18-24, 2015, and is sponsored by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts Clear the Water on the Colorful Myths Associated With Peeing in the Pool

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Mythical pee detecting dye? Nope. Chlorine causes red eye? Nope.
But “red eyes” is a colorful indicator that someone might have peed in the pool.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the swimming season kicks off, health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Water Quality and Health Council and the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) have teamed up to launch a campaign to stop people from peeing in the pool. To do so, they are busting a couple of colorful myths associated with this clandestine activity.

According to a new survey conducted by Survata on behalf of the Water Quality and Health Council, nearly half of Americans surveyed incorrectly believe that there is a chemical that is added to pools that turns a conspicuous color in the presence of pee. In the same survey, 71 percent also incorrectly blame chlorine for causing swimmers’ eyes to become red and irritated.

“Chlorine and other disinfectants are added to a swimming pool to destroy germs. Peeing in a pool depletes chlorine and actually produces an irritant that makes people’s eyes turn red,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program… “The solution isn’t rocket science; it’s common courtesy. Swimmers should use the pool to swim, the restroom to pee, and the showers to wash up before getting in the pool. It’s that simple.”

“There isn’t a dye that turns red, it’s the eyes that turn red. Swimmers’ eyes are the real color indicator that someone might have peed in a pool,” said Thomas M. Lachocki, CEO of the NSPF.

“That ‘chlorine’ smell at the pool isn’t actually chlorine. What you smell are chemicals that form when chlorine mixes with pee, sweat, and dirt from swimmers’ bodies,” said Chris Wiant, Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council “These chemicals—not chlorine—can cause your eyes to become red and sting, make your nose run, and make you cough.”

Busting the Pool Dye Myth
It’s the most common pool myth of all time: If you pee in the pool the water will change color and everyone will know. Parents have long used the story of a chemical that changes color in the presence of pee to keep their children from peeing in the pool. The fact is there is no such dye that currently exists.

Busting the Chlorine/Red Eye Myth
When nitrogen-containing compounds found in pee, sweat, and dirt combine with chlorine, irritants are formed. These substances, not the chlorine itself, irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory system. In this case, more chlorine may actually need to be added to pool water to break down irritants, according to the Water Quality and Health Council.

Getting the Word Out
Lachocki added that swimming keeps us happy and healthy. We need more healthy swimming and less seeing red!  The CDC and the American Chemistry Council also have collaborated on a brochure that includes key messages about healthy swimming, which include showering before swimming and not peeing in a pool.  To order a free CDC brochure, go to

The Water Quality and Health Council is once again making free pool test kits available this summer through their Healthy Pools campaign.  Swimmers can test their backyard pool or community pool to ensure it has a proper pH and chlorine level.  Good pool chemistry combined with a few easy and effective healthy swimming steps will not only help reduce unwanted germs in the pool, but they can help reduce instances of red eye.

To order a free pool test kit offered as part of the Water Quality and Health Council’s award winning summer Healthy Pools awareness initiative, please go to

The survey was conducted by Survata, an independent research firm in San Francisco. Survata interviewed 1,500 online respondents between April 23, 2015 and April 28, 2015. The margin of error for the survey is 2.53%.

Storing and Handling Pool Chemicals Safely

Friday, March 27th, 2015

This YouTube video on Pool Chemical Safety provides tips on avoiding pool chemical accidents and injuries.

What’s more refreshing than swimming in crystal-clear pool water?  It takes chemistry to achieve “crystal clear”—the appropriate use of disinfectants, pH adjusters and algaecides.  Pool water would quickly become a cloudy, hazardous “microbial soup” without pool chemicals, but as with all chemicals, the ones we use in the pool must be treated with a heaping dose of healthy respect.  The following three case studies, taken from recent news reports, illustrate the unfortunate and sometimes tragic results of mishandling pool chemicals.  “Lessons learned” from these examples are highlighted below.

Keep Pool Chemicals Dry

A hotel in Waldorf, Maryland was evacuated on the morning of March 14, 2015 when two young children complained of eye irritation.  The youngsters had been playing in the hotel hot tub, located next to the pool chemical storage area, according to a report in the Washington Post.  A spokesperson for the Charles County Volunteer Fire and EMS Associations later explained that, “A five-gallon container of chlorine tablets had gotten wet, and the odor had begun to spread.”
The “odor” referred to by the spokesperson was caused by a very concentrated solution of the chemical, made as water contacted it.  Heat might have been released when water contacted the chlorine tablets, and the product might have begun to decompose, potentially leading to gas generation.  To avoid such chemical reactions, pool chemicals must be kept dry in storage:

  • Store pool chemicals in a location in which they will remain dry and not be exposed to rain, snow or floodwaters.
  • Store liquid pool chemicals low to prevent accidental contact by their leaking onto chemicals stored below them.

Designate Containers for Only One Pool Chemical

A maintenance worker in a senior living home in Cayuga Heights, New York was overcome by fumes last August 9, when he accidentally “put chlorine in a container for muriatic acid,” according to a Syracuse, New York area TV news report.  “Chlorine” in this story likely refers to either solid chlorine-based pool disinfectant or liquid chlorine bleach.  When the chlorine-based disinfectant contacted acid remaining in the container, a chemical reaction occurred that generated chlorine gas, sickening the maintenance worker.  To avoid chemical reactions that may generate unwanted chemical products, never reuse chemical containers, as traces of the original chemical may remain and be reactive with introduced products:

  • Keep chemicals closed in original, labeled containers.
  • Read the entire product label or Material Safety Data Sheet before using or storing chemicals.
  • Dress for safety by wearing appropriate safety equipment, such as safety goggles, gloves and mask.


Never Mix Pool Chemicals

A Buena Park, California pool maintenance worker died of injuries he suffered when he was overcome by fumes generated by chemical mixing in an apartment building garage on February 24, 2015.  The Orange County Register reported fire authorities “…lifted [the man] out of a puddle of yellow chemicals, which omitted a yellow gas…[the man] had severe burns to his back face and respiratory tract, including his lungs.”
Several pool-cleaning chemicals were found at the scene, including chlorine and hydrochloric acid.  The news report speculates that the man might have inhaled toxic fumes, causing him to fall unconscious, knocking over and spilling chemicals as he fell.  A spokesperson for the Orange County Fire Authority stated, “With all pool chemicals we have to make sure they are separated and that they do not mix…. Some chemicals, when they mix, can be deadly.”  This disastrous example contains several lessons:

  • Handle pool chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
  • Open one product container at a time and close it before opening another.
  • Minimize dust, fumes and splashes.
  • Never mix chlorine products with acid; this could create toxic gases.  Even carbonated beverages are acidic enough to react with chlorine products!  Keep food and drinks away from pool chemicals.
  • Never mix different pool chemicals (for example, different types of chlorine products) with each other or with any other substance.
  • Only pre-dissolve pool chemicals when directed by the product label.

Pool chemical accidents in the US lead to thousands of visits to emergency departments each year.1 Yet, many pool chemical accidents are preventable.  Preventing accidents is a matter of maintenance workers and backyard pool owners being armed with safety knowledge.  For important tips on safely using and storing pool chemicals, download or order a free set of pool chemical safety posters at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Further detail can be found in the You Tube video, “Pool Chemical Safety,” which was developed by the Chlorine Institute and the American Chemistry Council, and contains messages based on information from the CDC.

Remember: A healthy respect for pool chemicals will go a long way toward safety in and around the pool!

Click here to download this article

Bob G. Vincent is an Environmental Administrator in the Florida Department of Health. He manages Department of Health programs for Healthy Marine Beaches, Safe Drinking Water, Water Well Surveillance and Public Pools and Bathing Places.

1 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, May 15, 2009/58(18); 489-2007.  Pool Chemical—Associated Health Events in Public and Residential Settings — United States, 1983-2007.  On-line, available:


Good Chemistry for Swimmers

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Swimming pools are amazing venues for recreation and exercise.  They are also reservoirs of all the substances swimmers introduce into them.  In addition to the substances that swimmers apply to themselves while at the pool, the average swimmer adds low levels of personal care products like deodorant, skin lotions, sprays and makeup, especially if they fail to shower before entering the pool.  Additionally, according to a 2009 Water Quality & Health Council survey, one in five adult Americans admits to having “peed in the pool,” introducing not only urine, but potentially low levels of caffeine and pharmaceuticals.  It is estimated that the average swimmer also introduces trace amounts of fecal matter into the pool.  Add to this mix needed disinfectants (see:  fecal matter reference), and you have all the makings of a chemistry experiment in a large “bath tub.”