Chlorine may make the water cleaner, but comes at price


Avery Davis
Staff Writer


Swimmers are used to the small amounts of chlorine used to kill the bacteria that would otherwise thrive in the public water of the pool. But as with anything, too much of the chemical can be harmful, even fatal.

Students at Coppell High School belonging to the Dallas Mustangs competitive swim team were swimming in a meet at the Rockwall ISD aquatic center on Dec. 6.  That Sunday, instead of having the normal properties of water, too much chlorine had been mixed into the pool. The effects were minor at first for the swimmers, but they became increasingly worse as the day progressed.

“At first [the chlorine] burned our skin and made it really dry and sensitive, but later our skin turned red,” CHS sophomore Sydney Clifton said. “It looked like we got a sunburn, but it was from the chlorine. It hurt badly to smile or laugh. And then it got in our chests and lungs. It got to the point where we could only warm up or cool down a little bit because getting our heart rates up too high or taking a deep breath made us cough uncontrollably. Our airways constricted- we couldn’t get air until we coughed it all out.”

Clifton, along with her sister, had to stay home from school the day afterwards with chlorine burn in their lungs. When they returned on Tuesday, the effects had mostly worn off, other than the lingering coughing. CHS sophomore Noah Nemec experienced similar symptoms afterwards.

“On Sunday the bad chlorine really hit me,” Nemec said. “I currently have mild asthma- over time it’s gotten way better- but after my second event on Sunday I had a hard time breathing and started coughing repeatedly. On my last event it really affected my swim because I was having a super hard time breathing.”

Symptoms of chlorine burn are not uncommon, especially while swimming competitively.

“It usually only happens during swim meets, because you get a lot of people in the venue and it kind of overloads the air handling systems,” Dallas Mustangs Head Coach Mook Rhodenbaugh said. “There are regulations that they are supposed to monitor the pool every day. Regardless of whether you’re swimming or not, they’re supposed to be keeping track of the ph level and the chlorine level.”

The YMCA pool is a local option for Coppell residents desiring to take a swim. This pool is open all year round and is a family-friendly option for the whole community. Photo by Jennifer Su.
The YMCA pool is a local option for Coppell residents desiring to take a swim. This pool is open all year round and is a family-friendly option for the whole community. Photo by Jennifer Su.

The severity of the reaction varies depending on the chlorine level of the pool and the length of time someone is susceptible to it, and it tends to be worse in children under 18. Chlorine poisoning, or chlorine burn, is painful, but there do not seem to be obvious lasting effects. Chlorine burn may not be the only negative result of swimming in high levels of chlorine – the chemical has been known to lead to many health complications, and has been linked to increasing the likelihood of cancer.

According to Livestrong, exposure to high levels of chlorine in indoor swimming pools “can result in burns to a child’s eyes, skin and throat, and could result in death.” Although the students swimming at Rockwall had minimal reactions compared to what could have potentially occurred, it still was not a pleasant experience.

Chlorine can be dangerous, not only for competitive swimmers, but also for people who jump into the pool every once in awhile. To help limit the effects of chlorine, it may help to shower after swimming to remove as much of the chemical from your skin as possible. It is also better for your health to swim in an outdoor pool over an indoor one, where chlorine gases are less concentrated and fresh air is more readily available.