Drugs and personal products may taint pool water

February 25, 2015

Research conducted by Purdue University suggests that pharmaceuticals and chemicals from personal care products may end up in pool water, and may even interact with chlorine to produce byproducts with unknown properties and health effects.

Pools have a variety of systems in place to reduce chemical and microbial contamination, such as filtration and chlorine-based disinfection. Chlorination kills germs that wash off  swimmers and enter the pool, and is thought to be an effective technique to stem pathogen growth.

However previous research has shown that many chemicals — including constituents of urine such as urea, uric acid and amino acid — can interact with chlorine to produce potentially hazardous disinfection byproducts in swimming pools. 

Ernest R. Blatchley III, a professor at Purdue University; Ching-Hua Huang, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and ShihChi Weng, a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University, were interested in conducting research to find out whether pharmaceuticals and personal care products were interacting with chlorine in the way other chemicals were known to.

Using an analytical technique that identifies and quantifies 32 pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water, previously used in urban drinking water analysis, the researchers tested water samples taken from indoor swimming pools in Indiana and Georgia.

Three chemicals were eventually detected: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, known as DEET, the active ingredient in insect repellents; caffeine; and tri(2-chloroethyl)-phosphate (TCEP), a flame retardant, with researchers noting that the other 29 chemicals may have been present at levels too low to be detected.The study noted that the findings were not a cause for alarm, merely an indication that further investigation was required.

Businesses that run pools, and real estate agents selling property with an attached pool, should contact environmental consultants to conduct regular water quality assessments, to ensure safety.