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 chemicals.

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 guidelines.

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 swimmers.

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 did not.

“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.