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UK Team Finds Chloroform
in Indoor Swimming Pools



NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - British researchers have found very high levels of the carcinogen chloroform and other potentially hazardous chemicals in the water of indoor swimming pools in London, according to a new report.

Pool water, like tap water, is very often disinfected with chlorine to kill illness-causing microbes that lurk in the water.

Scientists have known for decades that along with the good that comes with disinfecting water with chlorine, chemicals called disinfection byproducts can also be formed when chlorine reacts with organic substances like human skin and residues from body care products.

One particular class of disinfection byproducts, termed trihalomethanes (THMs), includes chlorinated organic chemicals like chloroform.

"Adverse reproductive outcomes such as (miscarriage), birth weight, neural tube defects, urinary tract defects, and others have been associated with exposure to THMs, but the evidence so far seems to be inconsistent and inconclusive," according to Dr. Mark J. Nieuwenhuijsen of the Royal School of Mines in London, and colleague, H. Chu.

In their investigation, Nieuwenhuijsen and Chu tested water samples from eight indoor swimming pools in London. A total of 44 samples were collected from the pools over a 3-week period during the summer of 2000.

The average level of total THMs and chloroform found in the swimming pool samples was 132 micrograms per liter and 121 micrograms per liter, respectively. For comparison's sake, levels of chloroform measured in tap water were found to be only 3.5 micrograms per liter, according to the report published in the April issue of the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Concentrations of total THMs were also correlated with the number of people swimming in the pool and the temperature of the pool water--higher levels were found in warmer pools with the most swimmers.

While the bulk of health studies involving chlorinated disinfection byproducts have been done with drinking water, the authors point out that swimmers seem to have a greater risk of exposure. Aside from ingesting the contaminated water, swimmers can breathe in the fumes produced by the chemicals and also absorb them through their skin, the researchers note.

"Trihalomethane concentrations should be reduced as far as possible in swimming pools while maintaining effective control against waterborne microbiological disease," Nieuwenhuijsen and Chu conclude.

SOURCE: Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2002;59:243-247.


Reference Source 89

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