Thousands Harmed by Pool Chemicals

Mishandled pool chemicals mostly injured young swimmers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Summer is the peak season for recreational swimming. That fun activity can turn foul when swimming pool maintenance isn’t handled properly.

In 2012, an estimated 4,876 people got emergency medical treatment for injuries from pool chemicals, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Roughly half of those people were less than 18 years old.

"Ensure a sanitary and safe swimming experience."

CDC researchers based their conclusions on data collected by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission’s National Electronic Injury Surveillance System between 2003 and 2012. That system records information from 100 hospital emergency departments from around the country on treated injuries involving consumer products.

Based on what happened in those 100 hospitals, the CDC estimated that there were 4,876 pool chemical injuries, which included respiratory, eye and skin injuries.

Injuries from improperly used or stored pool chemicals mostly occurred from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the peak season for water sports, the CDC reported. More than a third of those injuries happened at home. The remainder occurred in pools that are open to the general public.

“Chemicals are added to the water in pools to stop germs from spreading. But they need to be handled and stored safely to avoid serious injuries,” said Michele Hlavsa, RN, MPH, a CDC epidemiologist and chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, in a press statement.

The CDC advises people with pools at home and those who operate public pools to do the following:

  • Wear goggles, masks, gloves or other gear to protect from the potential harms of pool chemicals.
  • Carefully read and follow product labels on how to use pool maintenance chemicals.
  • Do not mix different chemicals together. Chlorine and acid, for example, will create a toxic gas when combined.
  • Only dissolve dried pool chemicals in water if the product label says so.
  • Add pool chemicals to the water. Do not add water to pool chemicals.
  • Store chemicals securely to keep other individuals from chemical harm.
  • Do not let children or other vulnerable individuals handle chemicals.

The CDC listed chlorine and bromine as the chemicals used to keep swimming pools sanitary. It takes a few minutes for those chemicals to start doing their job. These chemicals are not instantaneously effective, which is another reason swimmers need to help keep pools as germ-free as possible. People who are sick with diarrhea, for example, should not swim. Children and others should not urinate in pools. Everyone should take necessary bathroom breaks.

Not swallowing pool water is one way for swimmers to protect themselves from waterborne sickness.

The CDC released its results as part of the 2014 Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week, which runs through May 25. This special week aims to improve pool owners’ and operators’, swimmers’, lifeguards’ and other aquatics workers’ awareness of how to prevent drowning, pool chemical injuries and illnesses resulting from unsanitary pool conditions.

Review Date: 
May 21, 2014
Last Updated:
May 23, 2014