Back to blog Toxic Byproducts of Chemical Pool Sanitizers Create Health Concern Margaret Braginetz December 4, 2012 What was that smell emanating from the IonCleanse® water? One of AMD's customers told us the IonCleanse® session she was describing to us was from her son, who spends much time poolside and swimming in an indoor swimming pool. She described it as a chlorine smell. This piqued interest at AMD and we went searching. It didn't take long to find the results from research that broke in 2010 that, we believe, explains what was that smell. The problem, we learned, begins with the need to sanitize swimming pool and spa water to protect swimmers and spa users from waterborne pathogens, viruses and bacteria. Bacteria in pool water is generally blamed for causing otitis externa, or swimmer's ear (although the U.S. military, based on research conducted on their divers in 1999, was able to show that the cells in the ear canal after being submerged in water for a time swell and separate, allowing bacteria already present in the ear canal to enter and find a suitable breeding environment) and other nose, throat and ear infections. All in all, we could find no agency disagreeing with the general conclusion that waterborne pathogens are a serious health hazard. To counter the waterborne pathogens, two chemicals are regularly used to sanitize indoor pool/spa water: chlorine and bromine, chlorine being used in the U.S. more frequently than bromine. Unfortunately, when either of these two chemicals combines with organic matter, such as sweat, urine, saliva, or hair, it produces what are now labeled disinfectant byproducts, or DBPs. Bromine produces bromoform and chlorine produces chloramine compounds. Especially troublesome seems to be the chloramine compound trichloramine which is produced when chlorine mixes with urine (the ammonia in urine). At this point, there are numerous comprehensive studies confirming the health threat of DBPs. Michael Plewa, Professor of Genetics, University of Illinois, generally described the results from a study carried out by the University of Illinois that mirror the results of other studies. As reported in the Science Daily, Professor Plewa confirmed that the DBPs created in disinfected pool water can induce birth defects, accelerate the aging process, cause lung damage and respiratory ailments such as asthma, and even induce cancer, particularly bladder cancer, after long-term exposure. An article in Natural News.com, reporting on results of a study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, maintained, "Exposure to disinfection byproducts increased the four biomarkers of toxicity sevenfold, indicating they are a serious threat to health." Of critical consideration is that DBPs are not limited to the pool water. The poolside air also contains these compounds and increases an individual's intake. In fact, the area surrounding a badly maintained pool will have a harsh, chlorine-like smell. The smell is, in fact, from the chloramine compounds. Free chlorine molecules do not have a strong smell and a properly maintained pool should have little, if any, chlorine smell. This is when we had our "aha" moment. If free chlorine does not smell, and the DBP chloramine has a distinctly harsh chlorine smell, what was that smell from our customer's son's IonCleanse® session? The Lesser of Two Evils The CDC's (Center for Disease Control) position is that "waterborne pathogens pose a real and more immediate threat to health; water disinfectant byproducts are certainly the lesser of these two evils." In the WHO's (World Health Organization) guidelines, it is stressed that microbiological quality of the water supply in question must always take precedence over disinfectants or disinfectant byproducts. For the one billion people on the planet who do not have access to reliably clean water, new consideration is being given to methods of sanitization. It would be reckless to advise avoidance of swimming because of DBPs. However, anyone using an indoor pool should, at least, be aware of the potential problems and do what is possible to avoid or minimize them. If the poolside area around where you swim smells strongly of chlorine, you probably do not smell chlorine, but the chloramine compounds, and that signals a pool that is not being properly maintained. Litmus strips can be purchased to test the pool water. One might even ask to see the maintenance schedule of the pool. One might look for a certificate indicating that the person maintaining the pool is certified to do so. To avoid DBPs, some pools are changing to sanitizing by ultraviolet light (UV), and you might find one in your neighborhood. In the end, it comes to the same life situation as always. Make the best choice you can for yourself. Minimize the insidious health hazards that surround us and remember the IonCleanse® systems! What About Our Tap Water? Watch for our next installment on DBPs. What, exactly, do DBPs mean to our local tap water, often sanitized by chlorine, that is there for us to bathe in and drink? Does genotoxicity necessarily mean mutagenicity? Stay tuned.