Too Much Chlorine in Pool: The Poisoning Effects & How to Overcome

The easiest way to keep a pool, especially the large ones, clean is to use disinfectant. However, swimming pool disinfectant and disinfection by-products (DBPs) are said to be the cause of some health problem like asthma and bladder cancer.

A study in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain found that pool waters with too much chlorine has a high DBP level. It makes the water mutagenic and poisonous which is bad for the human’s body. 

To understand what exactly chlorine, DBPs and mutagenic means, how each of them formed, and what effect it can cause, read along to the end of this article.

What is Chlorine?

Chlorine is an element that is symbolized by Cl. In the periodic table, it is atomic number seventeen. It is also the twenty-first most abundant chemical element in Earth’s crust and the lightest halogens after fluorine. Halogens itself means that chlorine is salt-producing. 

However, chlorine is a very reactive substance. It also has a strong oxidizing agent.

To put it on a simpler term, when chlorine can react quickly when meeting substances that can transfer electronegative atoms—like oxygen—to surfaces where organisms live (substrate).

The atom-transfer process can cause damaging reactions such as combustion or even explosion. 

However, as scary as it sounds, that is only when we’re talking about the gas type of chlorine. When it comes to a swimming pool, we are talking about chlorine that dissolves into the water.

The process is called water chlorination. By adding chlorine or chlorine compounds to the swimming pool water, you can kill bacteria and other microbes. It works because chlorine is highly toxic.

Chlorine Toxicity: The Effects on Human

Too much Chlorine can be hazardous to human
Too much Chlorine can be hazardous to human

Chlorine can be found in the pool because it is a very common disinfectant. To be exact, it is elemental chlorine that is most commonly used.

However, elemental chlorine at high concentrations is very dangerous for all living creatures, including human. It makes a pool with too much chlorine not safe because following reasons

Too much chlorine in the pool can be poisonous

Chlorine can react with water to form hydrochloric acid and hypochlorous acid, and those substances are highly toxic.

Usually, people only use a low concentration of chlorine to kill and prevents the growth of bacteria in the pool. However, putting too many chlorine in pool can be a hazard to your health.

If you swallow too much pool water while it has a high level of chlorine, then there is a chance of chlorine poisoning. The symptoms of chlorine poisoning are respiratory problems such as breathing difficulties, coughing and wheezing. You might also experience chest tightness and pulmonary edema—a build-up of fluid in the lungs.

Other symptoms of chlorine poisoning are blurry vision and watery eyes. When ingested, the symptoms can be abdominal pain and pain or burning in the nose, mouth, or eyes.

Someone with chlorine poisoning might also experience nausea and vomiting, or even blood in vomit or stools. The symptoms also include rapid changes in blood pressure, skin irritation and blisters.

Too much chlorine in the pool can increase your risk of cancer

The process goes like this: chlorine, if digested, will react with organic matter inside your body and formed DBPs or disinfection by-product.

It is actually an unintended consequence of trying to kill pathogens (infectious agent/ germ) in swimming pools.  Based on various researches, many of DBPs are mutagenic or carcinogenic. 

Mutagenic or carcinogenic characteristic on DBPs means that DBPs can mutate and has the possibility to increase the risk of cancer.

The mutagenicity of pool waters with too much chlorine was similar to drinking water, which means the levels of mutagenic DBPs are similar.

Some studies said  too much Chlorine can increase the risk of cancer
Some studies said too much Chlorine can increase the risk of cancer

As the study states, “people who swam in the mutagenic, chlorinated pool water had increases in genotoxicity biomarkers that were associated with the concentrations of brominated trihalomethanes in their exhaled breath”. 

In other words, people that swam in a pool that have too many chlorine has an exhaled breath with environmental pollutant in it.

So it’s not the chlorine itself that has the possibility to cause cancer, but the DBPs that formed the reaction of chlorine meeting organic matter inside the bodies.

Which means the higher chlorine concentration in your pool has, the higher the chance of you forming a DBPs when you accidentally swallowed pool water.

The link between cancer risk and DBPs has been tested to animals, and several studies on humans have also found a connection between long-term exposure to disinfection by-products and a higher risk of cancer.

The cancer risk of people who drank highly DBPs water is bladder cancer and colon cancer. It may also have an effect on pregnancy, although it hasn’t been scientifically proven.

Overcoming the Danger of Too Much Chlorine in Pool

As dangerous at it is, we still need Chlorine because it is the easiest substance to clean pool. Most manufacturers use chlorine too so it’s easy to get.

So if you still want to use chlorine to keep your pool water clean but also needed to drink from it, the logical way to solve this problem is by filtering your pool water. 

However, to remove the chlorine from your pool water, the simplest way to do it is by boil the water. So in an emergency, it’s okay to drink from your chlorinated pool water, but you have to boil it first so the chlorine will evaporate.

However, boiling the water might get rid of the chlorine, but it’s inconvenient and also can leave pathogens behind.

If you have enough money, then you probably should invest in a quality water filter instead. You can find a water filter that removes the harmful characteristic of chlorine. 

Another smart solution for overcoming the danger of too much chlorine in pool is, of course, by not using chlorine. There is various alternative pool cleaning system you can use that do not need chlorine.

Some of it might be not as effective as the one with a chemical substance, but it can be used together with a very low concentration of chlorine so your pool water will still be safe. 

Some example of those alternatives filtering system/disinfectant are:

  1. UV Rays: UV Rays filter sounds highly sophisticated but it’s actually pretty simple. In this UV Rays filter, you will have a lamp that produces ultraviolet rays, and it will be placed in the filter circuit. The rays will destroy the DNA of microorganism in dirty water that passes through the lamp.
  2. Copper-silver Ionization: For copper-silver ionization, it is an ionizing chamber with electrodes. Like the UV Rays filter, this one also placed in the filter. The copper-silver ionization will release copper ions that will be able to get rid of algae. It also has silver ions that eliminate bacteria.
  3. Ozone: This one has an ozonator that is placed in the pump room of the pool. The function of the ozonator is to suck the oxygen from the surrounding so it can be transformed into ozone. The ozone and then will be released to the dirty room water where it can disinfect it. Another advantage of using ozone is that it makes the water clearer, remove odors and gives the water good taste.
  4. MagnaPool®: To treat water with magnesium, there will be two processes needed. The first one you will need the minerals (made up of magnesium), and it acts as a water treatment. And then the second one is a new filtering medium that contains pure glass crystal. With this, you can also enrich your pool water so it will be healthier, significantly different from the use of chlorine.
  5. Bromium: Just like chlorine, bromium can also oxidize, disinfect and remove algae. It is pretty much the same as chlorine but with one extra advantage: Bromium produces bromamines which are not irritating.

Lastly, sometimes preventing is not enough. In regards to chlorine poisoning that already happens, you need to be aware of the things you need to do.

If you or someone near you have burning eyes or blurred vision because of chlorine poisoning, the person to clean the eyes thoroughly with clean waters.

If the poisoning is caused by drinking, like what most likely happens in the swimming pool, do not drink fluids or force the chlorine out by vomiting. 

If you have done the steps above, you need to seek medical advice immediately before taking further action. People with chlorine poisoning is usually treated in the hospital emergency department.

Sadly, currently, there is no antidote for chlorine poisoning. All the medic can do is focuses on removing the chlorine from the body as quickly as possible. In severe cases, the doctor may even need to empty the person’s stomach using gastric suction.