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PERILS OF SWIMMING POOLS
FOR PREGNANT WOMEN

A study of public baths across London found "relatively high" concentrations of by-products of chlorine, a chemical used for decades to disinfect swimming and drinking water. Some research has suggested that high levels of these by-products may cause miscarriage and birth defects.

The research team from Imperial College, London, say the findings suggest pregnant women may be at risk and they recommend as a precautionary measure that levels of by-products in swimming pool water be reduced, but without compromising microbial cleanliness and safety. In the study, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers took 44 water samples from eight indoor swimming pools at different times over a three-week period and compared them with tap water. When chlorine is added to water, it reacts with organic matter such as skin cells and body care products to form disinfectant by-products, explain researchers. The most common of these are trihalomethanes, volatile compounds that can vaporise into the atmosphere.

The researchers found that levels of organic matter were three times higher in swimming pool water than in tap water. Levels of chloroform, the most commonly occurring trihalomethane, were more than 20 times higher. The International Agency for Research On Cancer has classified chloroform as a potential cancer-causing agent. Trihalomethane levels varied from day to day, according to the numbers of swimmers, but they were higher overall than those reported by other European studies. The researchers did not measure swimmers' absorption of trihalomethane, but they say previous research indicates a one-hour swim provides a chloroform dose around 141 times higher than that from a 10-minute shower. Furthermore, researchers suggest there are several routes of entry for chloroform into a swimmer's body - through the skin, in swallowed water and in fumes breathed off the surface of the water as it evaporates.

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), says, it is "critically important" to stress that the study does not attempt to link swimming in indoor pools to miscarriage or birth defects. "It does, however, highlight an area of potential risk to pregnant women and offers a simple solution to limit chemical levels in swimming pool water by reducing the amount of chlorine used - a measure which the NCT would strongly support," she says.

Source: Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Written by: Healthy Media


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