Have you ever wondered how the health of competitive swimmers like our U.S. Olympic Swim Team is affected by their bodies’ daily doses of chlorine? In this article we will look at that question and other questions like… Is the effect on these swimmers any better or worse than the effect of our taking hot showers in chlorinated water? If it’s bad for them, should we have such devices as chlorine filters for our showers?
The damaging effect of chlorine on competitive swimmers was dramatically brought to the world’s attention by the U.S. Olympic Swim Team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, when the coaches announced that over one-fourth of the team members suffered from some degree of asthma.
Given the high instances of asthma in our general population, researchers immediately sought to find the cause of the even higher rate of asthma symptoms among swimmers. Their findings were alarming.
The research began with chlorine. At that time, virtually every pool in the U.S. used chlorine to sanitize the water and keep it healthy from germs. Chlorine is a poison and it’s dangerous, but chlorination was (and still is) the accepted method of sanitizing a pool.
Pool managers knew the chlorine levels in water diminish quickly with an increase in the number of swimmers and with changes in the surrounding environment (such as opening doors and windows to allow water vapors in the air to exit indoor pools). Consequently they often over-chlorinated the pools to offset the lack of effectiveness of the chlorine under these conditions.
Researchers found, not surprisingly, that the higher levels of chlorine in the water often led to excessive intake of chlorine into the body through the skin and by inhalation of water vapors. This led to breathing problems for many of the swimmers.
Also, chemists tell us that chlorine will combine with organic substances such as skin, sweat, hair, urine, decaying vegetable matter, etc. to form chloramines and trihalomethanes (THMs). These THMs also include such cancer causing agents as chloroforms, carbon tetrachloride, bromo-forms and many, many more.
In 2000, these substances were known to worsen asthma and its symptoms but we now know they may actually cause asthma in otherwise healthy individuals.
Here are a couple of the more amazing facts to come out of the research.
1. The harmful chemicals found in the water vapors near the pools were only about one-fourth of the chemical vapors that result when we shower in chlorinated water at home! As a matter of fact, scientists now say 50 to 70 percent of the chemicals entering our bodies come from breathing in or absorbing such gases while showering.
Actually, it’s not surprising when you learn these harmful contaminants vaporize at lower temperatures than water, so, almost all of them will vaporize into the air we are breathing while we are taking a hot shower. And breathing these chemicals greatly multiplies their damaging effect since they are instantly absorbed through our lungs into the bloodstream.
2. The concentration of chlorine in our home water is often higher than what is allowed in the pools! The same dissipating effect of chlorine in pools also happens when chlorine is added to our drinking water. So, the EPA allows four parts-per-million of chlorine in municipal tap water. However, chlorine levels in excess of three parts-per-million are declared unsafe to swim in!
These are undoubtedly major contributing factors why, in the last two decades, the incidence of childhood asthma has quadrupled!
For our swimmers the researchers advocated changing from chlorine to using alternative products for sanitizing pools. While chlorine is very effective as a sanitizer, researchers showed lesser amounts of chlorine in combination with other less harmful products such as ozone were still as effective as sanitizers and far less harmful.
For the rest of us the solution is much simpler. There are simple chlorine filters for the shower that you can install in seconds and they give you good, safe water for bathing.
Also, installing chlorine shower head filters in all your showers will do wonders for your skin and hair. If you’ve ever spent much time in a chlorinated pool you already know of the drying effect of chlorine.
Whatever you do, don’t take the proven harmful effects of showering in chlorinated water lightly and, please, do not drink, shower or bathe in chlorinated water on a long-term basis! If you need proof of chlorine’s deadly effect read my article: “Tap Water Facts – Chlorine in Drinking Water Makes Chickens Cry “Foul””.