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Chlorine: The Clean Chemical?

If you live in the United States, you’ve most likely taken a dip in a chlorinated pool
at some point or another—if not every summer of your life. Not only that, if you
had a glass of tap water today, you probably drank some chlorine. The general population
seems to have accepted that chlorine is safe, but newer studies are indicating that harmful
effects may result from this common chemical.

An Everyday Chemical

Chlorine is an extremely common element on Earth—the 15th most abundant in the Earth’s crust and the third most abundant in the Earth’s oceans. Chemical compounds of chlorine are used frequently in day-to-day life to treat drinking water and swimming pools. They’re also found in many textiles, paper products, insecticides, plastics, paints, medicines, disinfectants and in many processed or fried foods.

Seems like a lot of chlorine, right? It’s generally accepted that chlorine is fairly harmless to the body on its own, but problems can occur when chlorine reacts with other elements in the water. This is what has some scientists concerned.


When chlorine comes into contact with common contaminants you’d find in swimming pools—hair, sweat, makeup, lotion, sunscreen and urine—they combine and create chloramines which are potentially dangerous disinfection by-products, otherwise known as DBPs. You know how some pools, indoor or outdoor, have a really strong “chlorine” smell? You are actually smelling chloramine and the stronger the smell, the stronger the indication there are too many DBPs present. Some DBPs are known carcinogens and have been linked to bladder and colorectal cancer.

The Risks

A leading researcher on aquatic environments, Dr. Alfred Bernard, published a study in 2011 tying chlorine and chlorine by-product exposure to reduced testosterone levels and other forms of testicular damage. There have also been reports of high rates of asthma in professional swimmers and lifeguards. Preliminary studies suggest a link between chlorine and some cancers, but there is not enough definitive evidence yet.

Chlorine: The Clean Chemical?

Reduce Your Exposure

The jury is still out on the risks of chlorine and its by-products. For now, we do know chlorine is critical to protecting the body from dangerous waterborne illnesses; according to the World Health Organization, waterborne disease is the world’s leading cause of death. At this point, the benefits outweigh the known risks. Until the research tells us for sure, do the following to decrease your exposure:

  • If you can find a salt water pool, always choose this as your top option for a dip!
  • Swim outside, the open air allows the potentially dangerous and concentrated gases to escape.
  • Reduce the amount of days you spend in a chlorinated pool.
  • Shower before swimming to do your part and help eliminate DBPs in the water.
  • Shower immediately after swimming.
  • If you own a pool, ensure you use proper amounts of chlorine and test levels often.
  • If you’re considering building a pool, research salt water options first.