By Hope T. Jackson, MD
With summer just around the corner, a new report warns that the chemicals we use to keep our pools clean send thousands of Americans to the emergency room each year.
What's worse, the injuries are completely preventable.
The report, released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that between 2003 and 2012 an average of 4,200 people per year went to hospital emergency departments for poisonings, skin reactions, breathing problems and burns linked to pool chemicals like chlorine and bromine. In 2012 alone, nearly 5,000 people were injured by pool chemicals, according to the report.
"Chemicals that are added to our pools play an important role in preventing the spread of germs," said report author Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC's Healthy Swimming Program. "But it is extremely important that we store and handle these chemicals safely to prevent serious injuries."
Nearly three-quarters of the injuries happened in between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with the majority occurring on weekends. And while a great number of the incidents happened away from the home, a third of the injuries occurred in backyard pools, according to the report.
The most common injury scenarios listed in the report involved handling pool chemicals without personal protective equipment, entering the water just before pool chemicals were added, and failing to keep these chemicals away from children. Nearly half of the injuries reported occurred in people younger than 18.
Nearly half of the injuries were categorized as poisonings, which included swallowing chemicals or inhaling vapors.
Dr. Deborah Houry, director of injury control at Emory University, said all of the injuries detailed in the report were preventable.
"This is an unfortunate trend that we see commonly in the summer months," said Houry, who was not involved with the study. "We need more preventative programs that encourage pool owners to safely store chemicals and use personal protective equipment."
And in many cases, parents may not even realize that these chemicals pose such a grave threat to their children.
"Parents often make sure their medication pills are kept safely from children but forget to take those same preventative measures with regards to pool chemicals," said Dr. Joan Bregstein, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center.
Fortunately, there's a way to prevent these injuries: treat pool chemicals with the respect they deserve, Hlavsa said.
"We need to be more proactive about taking the time to thoroughly read the safety labels that come with these chemicals and ensure that our children aren't around when we're using them," she said. "Protecting our children can't be over emphasized."