Just in time for the summer swim season, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention has released new guidelines
for safe handling of potentially hazardous pool
Developed in response to CDC research that identified a
significant number of pool chemical-related health
incidents, the recommendations apply to professional pool
operators and residential pool owners.
The fact that these injuries were unintentional
“suggests a lack of awareness [about safe
practices] and a need for education,” said CDC
epidemiologist Michele Hlavsa, who helped draft the
Hlavsa, who shared some of the findings at the 2008
World Aquatic Health Conference, said an analysis of the
American Association of Poison Control Centers’
2007 data showed that during that year, there were
thousands of chemical exposures. According to the Consumer
Product Safety Commission’s 2007 data, the most
prevalent diagnosis was poisoning via inhalation of
chemical vapors, and other injuries included chemical
burns, rashes and eye irritation. The most common victims
appeared to be white males under age 5.
Pool chemicals involved included calcium hypochlorite,
sodium hypochlorite, dichloroisocyanuric acid (dichlor),
trichloroisocyanuric acid (trichlor), hypobromous acid,
hydrogen peroxide and muriatic acid. Health problems also
were linked to disinfection byproducts —
chloramines or combined chlorines.
“The annual number of emergency room visits for
pool chemical-associated [incidents] is matching [that of]
traditional RWIs. It’s also likely that many
people who suffer mild exposure don’t visit the
emergency room,” Hlavsa noted.
Findings indicate that exposures frequently occurred in
residential environments; however, reports from the state
of New York show these incidents also occur at public
pools, where they can potentially affect a large number of
Not all states and communities require the reporting of
chemical exposures, so information is incomplete. But based
on analysis of available data on chemical exposure
incidents at public pools, researchers identified equipment
operation as one common reason for chemical exposure.
Several such incidents occurred at public pools when the
recirculation pumps shut down, but the chemical feed pumps
“I think there’s a lot of
underestimating of what it takes to run a pool safely.
It’s not as easy as dumping in some chlorine and
walking away,” Hlavsa said. “The pool is
essentially a giant chemical reactor, and once you add
swimmers it becomes a public health issue.”
The CDC guidelines cover pool system design, chemical
storage and handling, maintenance and repair.