If you’ve ever used the indoor pool at your gym, you probably figured it was fortified with enough chlorine to dissolve any nasty substance. Well, the results of a new study might make you think twice about taking that aqua yoga class.
Studies have been done on the effects of pharmaceutical and personal care product byproducts in drinking water since the late 1990s, write researchers in a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. But little research has looked into whether these byproducts, called PPCPs, are ending up in swimming pools and if they can be harmful to swimmers. So the research team from Purdue University took water samples from three indoor pools: two at different colleges and one in a high school. After analyzing the samples, they detected three specific substances: DEET (the active ingredient in bug spray), caffeine, and a flame retardant called TCEP.
Though the researchers aren’t sure how TCEP ended up in the water, they speculate that the DEET came from bug spray that washed off swimmers’ skin. Meanwhile, the caffeine may have been introduced into the pool via “human excretions”—in other words, sweat and urine. Yep.
The study cited previous research that found lotion and sunscreen in pool water, too. It’s also possible that more PPCPs and human waste byproducts could be in the water samples the researchers took, but they just weren’t detectable in this study, says study coauthor Ernest R. Blatchley, III, professor of engineering at Purdue University.
So, does this all mean you should you stay far, far away from your gym pool? “Right now, there’s no cause for alarm,” says Blatchley, adding that more research needs to be done. (Also, let’s be real: You’ve been swimming since you were a wee thing and you’ve grown up just fine.) He does advise swimmers to try not to ingest any pool water. (You’ve got a nice image in your head right now, huh?) And Blatchley highly recommends taking a shower before you take a dip to rinse off lotion, bug spray, and other cosmetic substances for the sake of other pool-goers.
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