Those who swim at public pools or own a private spa have almost certainly immersed their bodies into water treated with sanitizing chemicals. These unnatural additives beat back bad bacteria but can leave skin dry and itchy. With some reactions, the eyes and turn red, the respiratory system becomes irritated, and itchy bumps or hives appear on the skin’s surface.
Such chemical reactions are called “irritant dermatitis” and are not, strictly speaking allergies. Exposure to pool additives is more like a chemical burn than a bad reaction to peanuts.
Chlorine dissolved into pool water combines with bacteria and other organics in the water at a molecular level to destroy the disease-causing contaminants. When chlorine combines with another substance, neutralizing it, the chlorine is also neutralized – the two cancel each other out, effectively. Additional chlorine treatments are needed to continue killing off unhealthy germs.
Pool technicians call this procedure the weekly shock treatment which is removed from the water by the pool’s filtration system. The recommended swimming pool chlorine level is 1-3 ppm (parts per million) for clean water that is safe for swimmers.
As any swimmer can tell you (myself included), chlorine is tough on the eyes. As soon as I take the first plunge and open my eyes underwater, I can tell right away if the pool techs treated the water with chlorine – by the insane stinging that starts almost immediately and lasts for hours after toweling off.
Frequent swimming in chlorinated pools and exposure to cleaning products that contain chlorine has been linked to a higher risk of developing asthma and other respiratory allergies in both teens and adults.
Following are some signs of skin sensitivity to chlorine:
- Red, tender skin, inflammation, and/or itchiness at the site of contact
- Skin lesions or rash
- Scales or crust on the skin
Although chlorine is wicked effective for killing bacteria and other pathogens, it is wicked bad on the body. There is a milder alternative: bromine.
I first encountered bromine in the basement hot tub of a house I was caretaking. Before leaving for Europe, the homeowners instructed me on the esoteric art of spa maintenance, including how much bromine to add and how often.
Bromine is favored for hot tubs and heated pools because it is more stable than chlorine in the warmer temperatures. Like chlorine, bromine wipes out pathogenic organisms, neutralizing both. But a good portion of the bromine stays active after combining with the pathogens.
As with chlorine pools, the weekly shock treatment will still burn off the bacteria and harmful contaminants but leave behind some of the bromine – which continues to disinfect the pool. Consequently, it takes much less volume of the chemical bromine than chlorine to sanitize a pool, keeping maintenance expenses down.
This gain is offset by the cost of bromine which is higher than what you pay for chlorine. Another downside is that, although less harsh on the skin, bromine is chlorine-based and will trigger a reaction in anyone with a chlorine sensitivity.
The truth is that it doesn’t take much chlorine or bromine to neutralize pool bacteria but some folks who perform maintenance think that “more is better” and exceed the recommended dosage. Everyone who dumps chemicals into water intended for bathing or swimming needs to know how much chemical to add based on the volume of the pool – how much water it can hold.
Pool maintenance is tricky because the chemical levels change from exposure to sunlight, water temperature, and the number of people who have been using the pool.
The recommended safe level of bromine in pool water ranges between 2.5-4.0 ppm. When higher levels are detected, waiting for the filters and other environmental factors to lower the concentration is usually the best course of action.
Overdoing the bromines in a pool can result in a saturation of bromamines which form when bromine combines with airborne contaminants containing ammonia or from the skin of swimmers. Eccrine sweat glands cover most of the body and keep the body cool by sweating and here’s the kicker:
“Eccrine sweat is almost entirely water with a little salt and potassium, but it also contains trace amounts of ammonia, uric acid and urea – all waste byproducts of the body’s metabolism of nitrogen.”
Bromine converted to bromamines in the water reduces the effectiveness of sanitizing chemicals. Even though the levels of chemical sanitizer look good, the chemicals are no longer able to destroy pathological organisms.
The way to get rid of unwanted bromamines is to administer shock treatments regularly.
Also, be careful if you have a pet that likes to use the pool, too. A hot dog loves a cool pool but may wind up with symptoms similar to its humans companions: inflamed skin and nostrils and a runny nose. Furthermore, swallowing or drinking large enough amounts of chlorine or bromine is not good for any animal.