Swim Safety: The Overlooked Dangers of Over Chlorinated Pools

While Swim Safety Week is not until May, Spring weather this here and kids of all ages are jumping in  the pool. The country’s warmest states are fully defrosted from winter as the summer sun begins to peek through March’s clouds. Arizona, California and Florida seem to skip spring, heading straight into swim season, already seeing an increase in visitors to public pools to keep cool. It's never too early to consider swimming safety.


Tragically, a young Florida boy was recently hospitalized after swimming in a pool. Persistent and painful coughing and vomiting, his parents called for emergency services. After attending to the child, they found the apartment complex’s pool was over chlorinated.

Florida continuously ranks amongst the nation’s highest pool accidents and deaths, according to Daytona Beach accident attorney, Corey Bundza, whose firm sees an increase in pool accidents beginning this time of year. He is working to bring awareness to pool safety tips that are commonly overlooked by the state filled with swimming lovers.

There are countless articles on swimming safety and lifeguard tips, but are you aware of pool chlorine safety? It’s a necessary chemical for pools, the only exception being salt water pools, but too little and too much can create an unhealthy environment.

Our Chemical Necessity
Chlorine is the chemical used in pools to rid water of E.Coli, parasites, and other harmful bacteria through a fairly simple chemical reaction. But in science, simple doesn’t always translate to speedy- chlorine takes time to work.

Without chlorine, water-inhabiting bacteria would make most public pools a dangerous pastime where primal people dared to become entangled with deadly microorganisms. But chlorine must be maintained properly, monitored by a pH scale. Sparing the nitty gritty details, there is a safe range for pH levels - between 7.2 and 7.8, equivalent with that of a swimmer’s body- and illnesses can begin if the levels drop below or rise above. When pH levels go above the recommended guidelines aka over chlorinated pools, pool chlorine disinfection will begin.

Sunlight, debris, dirt and many other things from a swimmers’ body can reduce a pool’s chlorine levels. So it’s important they are routinely measured by someone who understands pH levels and how long chlorine takes to go into effect.

Symptoms of Over Chlorinated Pools
While a little pool water landing in a swimmer’s mouth from the big kid’s cannonball or from the youngin' practicing holding their breath is generally harmless, kids can become sick from swallowing too much chlorinated water. This is enhanced, of course, when the water is over chlorinated leading to chlorine poisoning or so-called recreational water illness (RWI).

RWI can include a wide variety of symptoms. Within the first 72 hours, swimmers falling sick with RWI may exhibit these symptoms:
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Intense and persistent coughing
- Trouble breathing
- Fatigue

It’s imperative parent’s understand these are initial symptoms of RWI, as they are, understandably, often mistaken for the common flu or food poisoning. If a child swam in the past three days and begins exhibiting these symptoms, it’s important to notify the child’s physician. As time progresses, symptoms progress to diarrhea; abdominal pain; swelling, burning, and infections of the eye, nose, ears, and throat.

Over and under chlorinated pools also share some immediate effects: redness and irritation in the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. Parent’s can examine their children for these symptoms once their finished swimming for the day.

If no immediate irritation is present, medical emergency personal offer the following advice:
Listen for a nagging cough after swimming. If the cough doesn’t go away, this could be a sign they swallowed too much water or inhaled it.
Be on alert for flu-like symptoms. If the child was swimming recently, advise your doctor so they can check for RWI.

In the past twenty years, America has seen a sharp increase in the number or RWI outbreaks, according to the CDC, growing from just over 3,000 cases in 2004 to almost 11,000 by 2008. And in 2010, one in eight public pool inspections resulted in immediate closure of due to serious code violations like improper chlorine levels.

Know the symptoms of RWIs, chlorine poisoning, and stay safe and cool in the pool.

For more information on general pool and warm weather safety, check out this article from Safety.com. Or these helpful posts:

It's never too early to consider swimming safety.

Splish Splash: Spring Swimming Pool Safety

Links for Healthy and Safe Swimming Information and Resources

Swimming and Drowning concerns at the Pool & Beyond

Avoiding Injuries in and around Swimming Pools

Contributing Author Jen Mur writes in conjunction with a consumer safety organization and the attorneys of Bundza & Rodriguez.

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