Chlorine levels put swim team at risk

By Ellen Cameron
Staff Writer

Sports are dangerous. Football is considered one of the most dangerous sports of all, given that head injuries happen like clockwork. Even golf is dangerous, given that golfers often go out in inclement weather with the equivalent of a lightning rod.

What most people do not realize, though, is that swimming, a sport renowned for being safe and healthy, can have huge health costs due not to pulling muscles and bumped heads, but exposure to chlorine, the chemical that is used in most pools to keep the pool clean.

Chlorine poses little threat to recreational swimmers, but competitive swimmers have much cause for alarm, as their exposure to chlorine can greatly impact their health. For example, chlorine can cause not only just dryness, but eczema in the skin. New Tech High freshmen and Coppell swimmer Sydney Overman is one such victim of eczema, but skin problems can plague the whole team.

“Especially in the winter, we need to use lotion and moisturizer,” senior swim team captain Sarah Staples said. “And sometimes if the chlorine level is too high, I get rashes. Really, though, it destroys hair insanely; chlorine bleaches and kills the ends of hair, which is especially noticeable on the guys who usually just use 2-in-1.”

In a study by the European Respiratory Journal, the percentage of swimmers with airway hyperresponsiveness was more than twice that of cold-air athletes. Furthermore, swimmers notoriously suffer from asthma; for example, a full third of the Australian swim team reportedly suffers from asthma. It is a bitter irony that in the one sport breathing perhaps matters the most, it is the most difficult physically.

“If the chlorine levels are too high and the ventilation system isn’t working well enough, it can get really bad,” senior swim team captain Andrew Cameron said. “No one can breathe during the sets.”

Chlorine, which has a high (basic) pH level, also infiltrates the bodies of swimmers in such an extreme way that if you were to pour water on a swimmer, you could be able smell the chlorine, even if the swimmer had showered well after getting out of the pool. Moreover, chlorine content in the body changes swimmers’ blood pH level from the usual neutral to up to 7.8, which is basic.

“[For most people differences in body pH] is a transient thing, and not an issue,” Dr. Russell Phillips said. “Because swimmers have daily exposure to chlorine, they are put at risk for cancer or things that can’t be identified, but studies may later reveal.”

With swimming, then, it’s not so much a matter of preventing injuries from accidents as it is waiting for health problems to manifest themselves. While water may not pose as a source of drowning for swimmers as it does to normal people, it poses a more subtle threat as a source of long-term health problems; even swimmers have cause to be afraid of the water, though of course the dangers of swimming would be far greater if the water were untreated.