Health Risks of Public Swimming Pools

Written by noreen wainwright
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Health Risks of Public Swimming Pools
Public swimming pools are tightly regulated. (Swimming-belt in swimming-pool. image by Saskia Massink from

Public swimming pools are tightly regulated. The number of bathers allowed in the pool at any one time and the requirements for lifeguards are stipulated by health and safety legislation and regulations. Water from supply tanks, drains and filters must be tested daily and a record kept. Pools have to be fitted with safety features, like lifelines, and first aid equipment. Despite the best intentions of the authorities and pool managers, concerns about public safety still occasionally surface.

Respiratory Irritation

Several studies have looked at the effects of swimming and being by the pool on health. One study, "Health effects of attending a public swimming pool: follow up of a cohort of pupils in Paris" (Momas et al.) found some evidence of rashes and eye irritation in children in the period immediately following a trip to the pool. Goggles offered some protection to the children and the effects soon wore off. A report published in The European Respiratory Journal in 2002 found some respiratory irritation amongst swimmers, and also amongst people who had been in the pool environment.

Legionnaires Disease

Public health authorities have occasionally made a connection between public swimming pools and Legionnaires disease. A pool in Bangor, Wales was closed for a period after high levels of the legionella bacteria were found in the water supplying the shower units. Legionnaires disease is a pneumonia-type respiratory illness that can be serious. It is rare but any threat is taken seriously, as 5-15% of cases are fatal. The elderly or people who have compromised respiratory systems are particularly at risk.

Health Risks of Public Swimming Pools
Legionnaire's disease is a rare but serious condition. (Hospital image by Raulmahón from


Verrucas are an unpleasant wart-like growth on the foot, which sometimes appear in clusters. They usually occur on the ball of the foot and therefore can make walking painful. They are passed on when people pick up the virus-infected cells from the area around the pool. Children and teenagers are particularly susceptible. Anyone with a verruca should avoid the pool or wear protective socks. Verrucas usually get better in time, but topical treatment can be used.

Health Risks of Public Swimming Pools
Wearing protectice socks help prevent the spread of verrucas (Feet image by patty 2210 from

Accidents in The pool

The most obvious risk in public swimming pools is the risk of drowning. Proper swimming lessons, particularly for children, and education about the safe use of the pool is the key to prevention. People with long hair should avoid the area around the water inlet as the hair can become caught, trapping the swimmer. Floors should be covered in a non-slippery surface, but care still needs to be taken as the risk of slipping is difficult to completely eliminate where there is water.

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