Recent studies have suggested a link between asthma and swimming, but an expert panel says more research is needed before a definitive correlation can be made.

The 25-member panel, which met in Leuven, Belgium, included co-chairs Dr. Clifford Weisel of Rutgers; Dr. Susan Richardson of the United States Environmental Protection Agency; and Dr. Benoit Nemery of Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. Panelists conducted an extensive review of the current studies and literature and concluded that more research is necessary to better understand the issue.

?Asthma itself is complicated; there are a number of environmental and genetic factors that come into play. The biologics of the swimming pool environment are also complicated and the addition of features like water slides adds another element to that,? said workshop facilitator Judy LaKind, Ph.D., president of LaKind Associates and a widely published health and environmental scientist focused on the areas of risk management and assessment, biomonitoring, and analysis.

Panelists focused on where the holes are in research and what can be done to fill them, especially when it comes to the off-gassing from sanitization known as disinfection byproducts, or DBPs.

?There?s a lot of discussion on the effect of DBPs relative to youths, and the goal of the conference was to try to get a handle on where we need to go from here, in terms of discovering conclusively whether the pool environment poses a true risk of asthma, and defining questions for future research,? said Fontaine Piper, Ph.D., chair of NSPF?s Education Committee and a retired professor from Truman State University, Kirksville, Mo. He attended the conference as a representative of pool operators and managers.

The panel is putting together a manuscript that?s to be published in peer-reviewed literature in 2008. LaKind said the paper will include research-specific recommendations that will need funding.

?A major weakness of our understanding of the potential association between childhood swimming at indoor pools and new onset of childhood asthma is a lack of knowledge regarding the levels of DBPs and other chemicals and biologics of interest,? LaKind said. She added that there also are no ?appropriate methodologies for measuring most of the DBPs that are respiratory irritants or allergens in the air within a pool environment. Hypothesis-driven, multidisciplinary research is needed.?

The American Lung Association estimates that in 2004, 4 million children under age 18 suffered an asthma attack in the preceding 12 months. Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in children