Five children pose for a photo underwater in a community swimming pool. They all wear swimsuits and goggles.
It’s wise to have your children shower briefly before entering a community pool, washing off any oils or creams that might interact with pool chemicals. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Swimming pools are one of the great joys of summer, but U.S. health officials warn that the chemicals that keep the water pristine can land you in the ER.

Between 2008 and 2017, there were more than 4,500 pool chemical-related injuries reported each year, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

“Summer is a great time to enjoy the pool with friends and loved ones,” Michele Hlavsa, from the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said in an agency news release. “We all share the water we swim in and can help maintain the right mix of chemicals in the pool.”

The most common type of injury was poisoning due to breathing in chemical fumes, vapors or gases, such as when opening chlorine containers, the report showed.

According to Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, “The same chemicals (chlorine, bromine) that we add to our pools, hot tubs and spas to reduce infection and improve water clarity may also lead to toxic exposures to the eyes, skin, lungs and gastrointestinal tract if not handled properly.”

Glatter, who was not involved with the new report, said, “Wearing gloves, protective eyewear, a properly fitted mask and proper clothing to protect hands and feet is essential when handling pool chemicals.”

The analysis also revealed that 56% of pool chemical injuries occurred at home, 36% involved children or teens and 65% of such injuries occurred during the summer swim season, from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

“The fact that the study noted a large number of toxic exposures in the home setting, as well as involving children, underscores the importance of safety and education about the chemicals themselves,” Glatter said.

Injuries from pool chemicals are preventable, but there’s been little change in the number of serious injuries from these chemicals in the last 15 years, according to the CDC.

The agency offered advice on how to prevent pool chemical injuries:

  • Read and follow directions on pool chemical product labels. Wear safety equipment, such as respirators or goggles, when handling pool chemicals. Check product labels for directions on what to wear.
  • Keep pool chemicals out of the reach of children, teens, pets and other animals.
  • Never mix different pool chemicals with each other. It is particularly dangerous to mix chlorine and acid.
  • If you operate a public pool, complete the operator training that includes pool chemical safety. Conduct pool chemical safety training for all staff that handle chemicals.

Glatter added that showering before entering a pool is also critical.

“Sweat, personal care products and debris on our body reacts with chlorine to reduce the amount of chemical available to kill and inactivate bacteria. It also forms harmful compounds that can lead to severe allergic reactions and eye irritation,” he explained.

“The bottom line is this: Don’t treat pools and hot tubs like a communal bathtub,” Glatter concluded.

The report was published recently in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.