On the heels of a number of studies linking swimming to respiratory issues, a German agency has become the first to recommend that children younger than 2 years old with a family history of allergies avoid indoor pools.
“The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) recommends, for the
sake of precaution, that concerned parents of children under the
age of 2 from families that suffer allergies not go to baby
swimming until the suspicion is confirmed,” according to an
official press release.
The warning is based on a number of studies that suggest
disinfection byproducts formed from the reaction of chlorine when
combined with organic compounds — including human sweat and
other body fluids — may contribute to respiratory
UBA tests detected airborne trichloramine concentrations at German
indoor pools of up to 18.8 milligrams/ cubic meter of air (mg/m3);
however, 90 percent of all measured levels fell below the
concentration of 0.50 mg/m3 recommended by the World Health
Organization. Researchers found that in pools with high
concentrations, ventilation did not comply with generally accepted
technical rules and standards.
Agency officials are hoping to eventually get more information on
whether or not lung damage is actually done in early childhood and
the extent to which it might lead to asthma.
“Trichloramine (TCA) is a strong irritant, with biochemical
data as well as epidemiological evidence indicating it to possibly
play a role in the induction of asthma, particularly if highly
sensitive children under 2 years are exposed regularly. Scientific,
i.e., toxicological, understanding is not quite at the point where
a safe level of TCA can be given," said Dr. Ingrid Chorus, with the
Also in the announcement, UBA President Jochen Flasbarth reiterated
the importance of healthy swimming. “Swimming is healthy for
children and adults alike, and so that it stays that way, a
thorough shower should be taken by everybody before swimming to
help avert the health risks posed by trichloramine,” he
Flasbarth also called on indoor pool operators to use available
water treatment technology. “Modern technology and public
education to raise awareness can solve the problem insofar as to
minimize the health risks posed by chlorine reaction
products,” he said.
Echoing the German position that more information is needed, U.S.
experts’ reaction to the warning was mixed.
“We are not aware of any data showing a strong link between
asthma in U.S. children and indoor swimming, or that existing data
from Europe on such a potential link is strong enough to warrant
telling parents not to allow their young children to use indoor
swimming environments,” said Michael J. Beach, Ph.D.,
associate director for healthy water, National Center for Emerging
and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. “However, writers of the Model Aquatic Health
Code are acutely aware of the need for improved water and air
quality in indoor swimming environments, and the acute health
effects due to exposure to these air contaminants are well
Mary Ostrowski, director, chlorine issues for the American
Chemistry Council's Chlorine Chemistry Division in Washington,
D.C., reiterated Flasbarth’s call for healthy swimming and
education. But Ostrowski said the German advisory is “highly
“As we state on the ACC Web site ... there is no convincing
evidence that swimming in chlorinated pools causes asthma in
otherwise healthy people,” she added.
For his part, aquatics expert Tom Griffiths was not surprised to
hear of the warning.
“While early swimming lessons may in fact reduce drowning, I
do believe it can cause a host of [ear, nose and throat] and other
problems …” said the founder of Aquatic Safety Research
Group in State College, Pa.