People have been told for years how important sunscreen is to shield from potentially harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays to prevent skin cancer. However, new research has revealed that plunging into a refreshing, cool swimming pool on a hot summer day while covered in sunscreen may put your health at risk.
Chlorinated water and UV rays from the sun bread down a compound in sunscreen creams and lotions into toxic chemicals. Two of those chemicals have been associated with infertility, immune system damage, and even cancer, according to The Sun.
The study was conducted by Lomonosov Moscow State University and was published in the journal Chemosphere. Researcher Dr. Albert Lebedev noted: “A generally safe compound transforms in the water and forms more dangerous products.”
The research concentrated on avobenzone, the most widely-used sunblock in the world. Lipsticks, creams, moisturizers, and other cosmetics contain avobenzone due to its ability to absorb damaging UV rays. The Russian researchers discovered it breaks down in chlorinated water when the swimmers’ skin is wet.
Avobenzone was patented in 1973 and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1988.
Acetyl benzenes and phenols are two of the chemicals produced and are especially toxic. The researchers also remarked on an additional risk if the water has copper salts that are put in swimming pools to make them appear blue.
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Untreated Water Unsafe for Swimming
It takes a lot of chemicals to make pool water safe for swimming. Untreated water may accumulate harmful Escherichia coli and Salmonella bacteria and protozoans such as Cryptosporidium parvum and Giardia lamblia. The disinfection chemicals are necessary for killing pathogens, but they do not just float inertly in the water. Many pathogens are present with organic material in the water such as dirt, sweat, urine, and even skin moisturizers, to form disinfection by-products (DBPs), according to Chemical and Engineering News.
Anyone who goes into a pool is going to be exposed to DBPs – in the water in the pool or in the air around it. According to studies of drinking water, many of these chemicals may be considered toxic at certain levels. Although unclear how much exposure to the compounds is enough to cause health problems, it is known that elite swimmers and people who work in and around pools are the most vulnerable.
The most common compounds used to disinfect swimming pools are forms of chlorine. Other disinfectants include bromine, ozone, and ultraviolet radiation. They all kill microbes by reacting with and disrupting the function of biomolecules the organisms need for survival. The various disinfectants may be used alone or in combination.
Cryptosporidium, or “crypto,” a protozoan causes intestinal disease and is more often than not the microbe that causes illness in recreational swimmers, according to Ernest R. (Chip) Blatchley III, an environmental engineer at Purdue University who studies water treatment and DBPs. Crypto is resistant to chlorine, but sensitive to UV radiation. It does not kill the protozoan but makes it unable to reproduce.
“If you couple UV and chlorine together, you have a strategy that can take care of virtually any microbial pathogen that might be present in pools,” Blatchley says.
How Often is Pool Water Replaced?
Pools generally recirculate their water. “The water is recirculated over months in a pool,” says Christian Zwiener, a chemist at the University of Tübingen who studies DBPs. The only water that regularly gets replaced in pools is the water lost to evaporation and the water used to flush out the sand filter in the circulation system, Zwiener explains.
An engineer at Delft University of Technology who studies pools, estimates that about one percent of the water in a pool is lost and replaced each day. That means it takes about 100 days for much of the water to be replaced – 100 days during which DBPs are accumulating.
Scientists are looking into a suitable alternative for avobenzone that will not break down when exposed to chlorination or bromination of fresh and sea water, according to Inhabitat.com.
“Studying the products of transformation of any popular cosmetics is very important as very often they turn out to be much more toxic and dangerous than their predecessors,” said Lebedev. “In principle, basing on such researches, one could obtain results, which could restrict or even put under a ban the usage of one or another product, and preserve health of millions of people.”
Legal Information Concerning Consumers
If you or someone you know has been affected by an illness sustained as a result of chemicals, you may have valuable legal rights. Parker Waichman LLP offers free, no-obligation case evaluations. We urge you to contact our personal injury attorneys at 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).