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Analysis of exposure to contaminants for customers and workers at public swimming pools

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An investigation detects for the first time the presence of haloacetic acids in swimmers and swimming pool employees.

The users of swimming pools are exposed to the inhalation and consumption of diverse toxic components, probably cancerous, according to research by Professor Michael J Plewa of the University of Illinois, and this has been proved for the first time by a group of researchers at the University of Cordoba. In a study published by the prestigious journal Environmental Science and Technology, published by the American Chemical Society, the team from Cordoba has demonstrated that haloacetic acids (HAAs), byproducts that appear due to the reaction of organic material with habitual cleaning and sanitary products used in this type of facility, get into the system of employees and swimmers through the swallowing of water (in 90% of cases) as well as other means unknown until now: inhalation and absorption through the skin.

The investigation, directed by professor of analytical chemistry, Mercedes Gallego, and researcher María José Cardador from the group ‘Cromatographic Analysis of Contaminants’, studied the presence of the 9 HAAs existing in 49 swimmers and workers over the period of more than a year and concluded that these contaminants appear in the body between twenty and thirty minutes after exposure to them and are eliminated through urination 3 hours later. The researchers also detected that the concentration of the contaminants was four times superior in swimmers than in employees and more likely in children than in adults.

Haloacetic acids appear when the chlorine habitually used in the disinfection of the water reacts with other components present in swimming pools (residues of urine, hair, etc.). The European and American health authorities only regulate their presence in drinking water distributed by supply services in cities. The study by the University of Cordoba, selected by the American Chemical Society as one of the most relevant studies of the year (a summary of the study has been sent to more than 2500 specialist journals across the world), opens a new line of investigation received with much interest by the international scientific community.

More information:

Article: M. J. Cardador and M. Gallego*. Haloacetic Acids in Swimming Pools: Swimmer and Worker Exposure. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2011, 45, 5783–5790.

Article: Justin A. Pals, Justin K. Ang, Elizabeth D. Wagner and Michael J. Plewa*. Biological Mechanism for the Toxicity of Haloacetic Acid Drinking Water Disinfection Byproducts. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2011, 45, 5791–5797.

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