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Jul. 20, 2011

Underwater in Public Pools

by Ally Ruchman

Click to enlarge images

By Ally Ruchman, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

Cooling off in a pool during the summer is a favorite past-time of adults and kids alike. What better way is there to beat the heat and spend time with family and friends than going down to the local public pool for a swim? But what lurks beneath the water and how can we make our pools safe again?

Posted at every public pool is a list of rules...no running, no horseplay, dive only in designated areas, and shower before entering. Why shower before entering if you're just going to get wet in the pool and take one afterwards? Studies show that nitrogen-rich products, such as sunscreen and cosmetics, can mix with the pool water and create toxic chemicals that can mutate genes. By not showering, you're bringing in agents that can become detrimental to your health. And since 35% of Americans admit to skipping the shower before swimming, the toxicity levels can really add up.

Another thing that makes our pools unsafe is urine. It might seem a bit crazy, but in a recent survey by the Water Quality and Health Council, 1 in 5 people admitted to peeing in pools. That slogan from when you were a kid, "Welcome to our OOL, notice there is no P in it" might have been on to something. Urine is filled with toxins that are leaving your body for a reason. By using the pool as a toilet, you are not only subjecting yourself, but others, to health risks.

The most common disease found in public swimming pools is RWI or recreational water illness. They affect about 10,000 Americans every year, and are contracted through breathing, swallowing, or other contact with contaminated water. The effects can range from mild discomfort to diarrhea and nausea.

So what are some safety precautions you can take to prepare yourself against public pool germs this summer?

  • Shower, shower, shower. It's the best way to prevent new germs from entering and products like sunscreen and make-up from mixing and turning toxic.
  • Don't pee in the pool and don't allow little kids to pee either.
  • Tell whoever is in charge to up the amount of chlorine that is put in -- but not to an unsafe level. Chlorine kills the majority of germs, but too much exposure can be hazardous to swimmers.
  • Make sure your local government cleans your public pool regularly.
  • Observe all rules and regulations posted poolside.
  • Check for anything the looks suspicious as you never know what might be lurking under the water.

Be safe, but don't forget to enjoy yourself and have a nice swim!

_______________________
Ally Ruchman is a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in Rumson, NJ. She loves animals, reading, science, and traveling.

About Ally Ruchman

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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