Dangers of Chlorinated Swimming Pools & 3 Safe Alternatives

Chlorine: the seemingly innocent chemical added to our drinking water and swimming pools across the world. While families happily wade in swimming pools, they are not being told that chlorine gas is used as a terrorist weapon. Here’s what you need to know about chlorine and some safe alternatives for swimming pools.

From the government’s National Center for Biotechnology Information:

Once used as a chemical weapon in the World War I, chlorine gas has long been known for its pulmonary irritant properties. Many chlorine exposures are the result of accidents at swimming pools and mixing of household agents. However, recent events in the Iraq war, the war on terror and large-scale industrial incidents have demonstrated that chlorine represents a persistent hazardous material (HAZMAT) threat.

Insurgents in Iraq have recently executed multiple attacks using chlorine tanker trucks. On February 20, 2007, a tanker truck carrying chlorine was outfitted with explosives and detonated in Taji. Five people were killed in the blast and over 140 others sought medical treatment for chlorine exposure. The next day, another attack with chlorine resulted in two fatalities and over 30 treated at nearby hospitals for respiratory complaints. On March 16, 2007, insurgents conducted three separate attacks using chlorine. The attacks occurred during a three-hour period in several different cities. Over 350 civilian casualties resulted from exposure, with hundreds requiring medical treatment. On April 6, 2007, another incident involving a chlorine truck primed with explosives left 30 dead with over 50 seeking care at local hospitals for respiratory symptoms.

This war chemical is being handled and used as though it was a harmless substance. This medical journal case study cites a case of a 3-year old boy whose death resulted from handling pool chlorine tablets. If you choose to keep those products on hand, download the pdf for this article to recognize the signs of chlorine poisoning before it’s too late.

So what is this war chemical doing to our health through the regular use of swimming pools?

Gut Damage

If you’ve been on my facebook page or even scrolled around on my website, you may know that a healthy gut is the key to overall good health. As Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” (Start with my post on Part 1: All Disease Begins in the Gut for more info.)

Because chlorine destroys beneficial gut bacteria, it has the same effects on our gut as prescription antibiotics. And since the majority of our immune system is in our gut, we often see babies, children, and adults getting sick just hours or days after swimming while their immune system is reaping the effects of a suppressed immune system.

Because of the damage chlorine does to the gut, many professional swimmers eventually succumb to intestinal problems such as IBS/Crohn’s/Colitis. This is an incredibly difficult health problem to battle and to correct and unfortunately most often shows up suddenly without warning.

Asthma/Breathing Problems

Pool chlorine has been shown in studies conducted across the world to cause or exacerbate asthma. One researcher noted that a 10-year old child spending an average of 1.8 hours per week in a chlorinated pool suffered lung damage she would expect to see in an adult smoker.

One study found that teenagers who spent more than 1,000 hours swimming in chlorinated pools, either indoors or outdoors, had more than eight times the risk of having asthma than did teens who primarily swam in pools using a copper-silver disinfecting method.


According to the U.S. Council Of Environmental Quality, “Cancer risk among people drinking chlorinated water is 93% higher than among those whose water does not contain chlorine.”

Of course, because our skin is our body’s largest organ, swimming in chlorine is much, much more dangerous than drinking chlorinated water.

One of the byproducts of chlorine, dioxin, has been found by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be 300,000 times more potent as a carcinogen than DDT. This is the same chemical that was used in an assassination attempt on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. The attempt failed, but ingesting the poison resulted in permanent disfigurement and chronic health problems. The President was dosed ONE TIME during dinner with General Igor Smeshko, causing acute toxicity.

Tasteless but highly toxic, the dioxin Yushchenko ingested was administered in a dose probably less than 1 mg. A drop in a bowl of soup would have gone undetected, said Prodanchuk.

The Poisoning of Ukraine’s President

Of course, dioxin (which BTW is also found in disposable diapers, tampons, etc.), is just one of the components of chlorine that cause cancer. Recent studies identified more than 100 chemical byproducts in pools that use chlorine as a disinfectant.

In water, chlorine reacts with sweat, urine, skin cells and other organic materials to produce all sorts of chemical byproducts. In animal studies, some of those chemicals have been linked with bladder cancer.

After 40 minutes of swimming, the study found, people showed a large rise in markers of DNA damage that can lead to cancer. Concentrations of four of the most common byproducts were seven times higher after people swam.

Chlorine’s chemical byproducts can get into our bodies through the skin. Exposure also comes from breathing air at the surface of the water, where chemicals become volatile. When exercisers swim hard, they breathe faster and end up with even more exposure.

Birth Defects

Studies of countries with lower usage of chlorinated tap water compared to countries with higher usage of it have proven that the higher usage of chlorinated tap water contributes to a higher incidence of birth defects.

Pregnant women living in areas where tap water is heavily disinfected with chlorine nearly double their risk of having children with heart problems, a cleft palate or major brain defects.

Additional health problems

Although the most serious clinical effects of chlorine toxicity tend to be pulmonary, it can also cause skin and eye injuries. While dermal manifestations include irritation and pain, in severe exposures, chemical burns, including blister formation, can take place. Ocular complications include irritation and conjunctivitis. Severe cases can result in corneal defects. Chlorine also causes other non-specific symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, rhinorrhea and headache.

In hyper-chlorinated pools, even dental enamel can be eroded because of the increased acidity in swimmers in training. http://coachsci.sdsu.edu/swim/chlorine/chlorine.htm

Skin conditions, such as eczema and other rashes, are common after swimming in chlorinated pools. This is due in part to the destruction of beneficial gut bacteria, as well as because chlorine can be so drying to skin.

Problems from chlorinated pools pose the most danger to competitive swimmers and to children. When it comes to infants and children, they inhale more air per unit of body weight than mature persons, and have lesser developed immune and defense systems.

So What Are The Alternatives?

In my research, I have discovered 3 common alternatives that are practical for home use. (There are others, such as moss, but I am listing the more common ones.) They are:

Hydrogen Peroxide

No, not the bottle you keep in your bathroom. Higher-percentages of H202, such as 34-35% (store-bought stuff is 3%) has many uses including agricultural use and yes, pool use. It is a natural oxidizer, which is why it is a great alternative to chlorine for bleaching clothes and cleaning pools!

Unfortunately, the 35% H202 can be much more difficult to find/buy because it is considered hazardous (which is strange because it is much, much safer than chlorine. . .). Hydrogen peroxide at 35 percent can be dangerous only if not diluted simply because it is a very strong oxidizer. In fact, it will temporarily turn any skin that comes into contact with it white. (Don’t worry–it happened to me before and I was fine!) Diluted, it is extremely safe and effective. Many countries and companies are switching to hydrogen peroxide as a safer and more eco-friendly alternative to treating tap water and bleaching pulp for paper-making.

Because most stores no longer sell this product, the easiest way to get it is online. Unfortunately, there is a hazardous material shipping charge which causes the price to increase substantially. I recommend talking to your local farmer and asking where they get theirs, or even if you can buy some from them. Food grade is best as it can be used to clean your vegetables, fruits, eggs, etc., but I believe 35% standard grade will work as well for pool use , especially since it sometimes contains phosphorus which helps neutralize any chlorine already in the water.

Once you get your hands on some 35% H202, here are the specific recommendations for using hydrogen peroxide for pools

Since I was not able to easily find some 35% H202, I did some research and found some pool products that are basically just 35% hydrogen peroxide! After calling many pool stores within 35 miles of my home, I found just one that carried one of the brands.

Baquacil brand of pool supplies offers an oxidizer that is hydrogen peroxide. This is the one I was able to find. Aqua Silk Oxidizer is another chlorine-free, bromine-free pool oxidizer made from hydrogen peroxide.

After further research, I was told that pools will also need some protection against algae buildup. Baquacil and Aqua Silk both offer a product for this:

Baquacil’s algicide is made from polyhexamethylene biguanide which is used in some contact lens cleaning solutions and surgical dressings. It has recently been discovered to be effective against fungal infections as well. Of course, it is still technically a “chemical” in my mind, and I expressed that concern to my local pool supply store representative. She assured me that algae and mold are much more dangerous to swimmers than this chemical, so I conceded.

If you use these products, I recommend consulting a pool store representative that carries one or both of these products. They can test your pool water and help you figure out what amounts you need and how often you need to treat your pool.

Ionized silver

Ionized silver was found to be 1000 times more effective at killing necessary bacteria in pools than chlorine alone. http://www.brightandclearpools.com/Univ%20of%20AZ%20Excerpts.pdf

In fact, if you look at my post on natural antibiotics, you will read that pioneers used to put silverware or silver coins in their drinking water to make sure it was free from harmful bacteria.

Many pool supply stores sell silver ionizers. These systems still require the use of a small amount of either chlorinated or non-chlorinated sanitizer.

Saltwater Pools

Many public pools, as well as large in-ground home pools, are switching to saltwater systems. People report wonderful benefits of swimming in saltwater pools, including smoother skin. These systems can be extremely expensive compared to chlorinated pool treatment costs, but are definitely much safer. Like the pool silver ionizer systems, saltwater systems still require the use of a sanitizer.

For those with above-ground pools who can afford a little more, Intex Corporation now offers saltwater generators for their above-ground pools at a very reasonable price.

However, there is some concern with saltwater systems that the salt is basically being turned into chlorine. I have not yet looked into this so I encourage you to do further research on this if choosing to go this route.



There you have it. 3 safe alternatives to dangerous chlorinated pool treatment–Hydrogen peroxide, silver, and saltwater. If you have any experience/information to offer on these, please leave a comment!

Blessings of good health,


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Comments & Responses

5 Responses so far.

  1. […] have a much higher rate of bladder cancer. For more on the dangers of chlorine, you can check out my post about chlorinated swimming pools which details the problems with […]

  2. […] have a much higher rate of bladder cancer. For more on the dangers of chlorine, you can check out my post about chlorinated swimming pools which details the problems with […]

  3. […] but today I want to cover the water that we use to keep our little ones clean. If you’ve read my post about swimming pools, you know how dangerous chlorine […]

  4. erica says:

    Great article! Came at the perfect time. Now we just need to decide which route to take. My dad mentioned something about salt water pools running through aluminum valves in the pump to create clorine (!). Do you know anything about this? Is that true, & is it true for all saltwater systems?

    • sjpoff says:

      Not sure Erica! I don’t have any experience with saltwater; we went the H202 route. But I do know that you still have to use chlorine with most saltwater systems, just not as much. Don’t know anything about the aluminum, but I’d love to hear back if you find out more!

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