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Pool Chemicals and Hepatitis C

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A lot goes into keeping conventional swimming pools clean – more than your liver may desire.

In an effort to minimize their liver’s exposure to toxins, individuals living with chronic Hepatitis C are accustomed to taking extra precautions. While having fun, getting exercise and staying cool in hot, humid weather can all be fulfilled by a day playing at the pool, many with Hepatitis C want to know if traditional pool chemicals put an undue strain on their body.

About Hepatitis C

In the U.S., about four to five million people are infected with Hepatitis C – a potentially chronic disease that can cause progressive injury to the liver. This organ is responsible for filtering toxins out of the body’s bloodstream, a process that is diminished when its cells are injured. When struggling to filter impurities out of the blood due to damaged cells, the liver and surrounding vessels becomes susceptible to a toxin backup.

Unfortunately, a backup of toxins increases the likelihood of liver cell damage even more. This vicious cycle of liver cell damage and toxins is why those with any kind of chronic liver disease – like Hepatitis C – must go out of their way to avoid unnecessary toxin exposure.

Pool Chemicals

Conventional swimming pools are filled with chemicals to keep those in the water safe from infection. Untreated water is a potential breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi, all of which could seriously complicate the health of someone with a chronic liver disease like Hepatitis C.

Providing a safe swimming environment requires a careful balancing act between creating an inhospitable environment for germs and contaminants, without creating a toxic one for humans. To reach this goal, several different types of chemicals are typically used:

  • Water Balancers – These chemicals keep the pool’s total alkalinity, pH and calcium hardness within an ideal range.
  • Sanitizers – The most important (and potentially toxic of all pool chemicals), sanitizers inhibit the growth of bacteria, algae, viruses and other microorganisms.
  • Algicides – These chemicals add a layer of protection against algae.
  • Oxidizers – Also known as shocks, these chemicals aid sanitizers in the effort to control bacteria and algae growth.

In addition, there are several other types of supportive pool chemicals such as clarifiers, metal removers, stain and scale inhibitors and chlorine sunblock.

Each type of chemical added to the pool water has a specific range that has been deemed safe (read non-toxic) by experts. However, those with an already burdened liver could be at greater risk if those levels are too high. Of particular concern is not the initial sanitizer used, but the byproducts of that chemical when it breaks down and reacts with organic matter (such as perspiration or urine).

Chlorine, the most common sanitizer for disinfecting swimming pools, is one of the chemicals people are most concerned with. Chlorine has been linked to an increased risk of asthma and other respiratory problems. According to a Spanish study published in the November 2010 journal Environmental Health Perspectives, adults who swim in chlorinated pools are exposed to toxic levels of disinfection byproducts. Although this study only focused on indoor swimming pools, the researchers concluded that the positive health effects gained by swimming could be increased by reducing the potential health risks of pool water.

Another study revealed that both chlorinated and brominated (bromine is another type of sanitizer) pools are loaded with dangerous disinfection byproducts. Samples of water from both sources revealed more than 100 toxic byproducts, many of which have never been identified in either swimming pool or drinking water. Because of their potential to put undue stress on an already taxed liver, exposure to toxic byproducts would be high on the avoidance list for those with chronic Hepatitis C.

Chemical Alternatives

Assuming the pool is well-maintained, an occasional dip in a swimming pool maintained with conventional chemicals is not likely to cause liver damage – even in those particularly sensitive to toxins. However, there is no guarantee that regular exposure to the water and fumes from chemical pool sanitizer byproducts is safe.

Concerned individuals can choose to swim in ultra-violet (UV) disinfected pools and spas. The UV treatment kills dangerous pathogens and pollutants without creating toxic byproducts. Any chemicals used in UV-treated pools are typically minimal. In addition, the movement to create an environmentally friendly, toxin-free world is fueling the growing popularity of “natural pools.” Although still relatively rare in the U.S., several countries in Europe have already embraced the concept of natural pools where plants are used to purify the water instead of chemicals.

To this date, there is no study that has demonstrated swimming pools worsen the liver health in those with chronic Hepatitis C. Nonetheless, understanding the potential toxicity of standard pool chemicals makes the quest to swim every day less appealing. As long as it is well-maintained, going to the public pool with your family a few times per summer is not likely to cause your liver any stress. However, those with Hepatitis C who have a passion for swimming might want to consider alternatives to chemically-maintained swimming pools.


http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/water_health/health1/1-safe-pool-water.htm, What About the Water in My Pool? Is It Safe?, Retrieved July 29, 2012, APEC Water Systems, 2012.

http://www.fyiliving.com/research/the-potential-toxicities-in-chlorinated-pools/, The Potential Toxicities in Chlorinated Pools, Retrieved July 29, 2012, FYI Living Inc, 2012.

http://www.know-your-pool.com/pool-chemicals.html, Common Pool Chemicals, Retrieved July 29, 2012, Know-Your-Pool.com, 2012.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/225560-swimming-pool-chemical-safety/, Swimming Pool Chemical Safety, Barrett Barlowe, Retrieved July 29, 2012, Demand Media, Inc., 2012.

http://www.naturalnews.com/030053_swimming_pools_chemicals.html, Swimming Pool Chemicals Linked to Cancer, Lung Disease, Jonathan Benson, Retrieved July 24, 2012, Natural News Network, 2012.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20833606, Genotoxic effects in swimmers exposed to disinfection by-products in indoor swimming pools, Kogevinas M, et al, Environmental Health Perspectives, November 2010.

http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/chlorine-pools-47051803, Pool Chemicals Cause Thousands of Illnesses, Dan Shapely, Retrieved July 24, 2012, Hearst Communications, Inc, 2012.

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Hepatitis C-Spreading Medical Employee Worked in 8 States

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