When the summer heat has baked your brain and sweat is dripping from every pore, there are few things as tempting as a swimming pool. Sparkling in the sunlight, a backyard pool looks like a desert oasis, just waiting to lower your body temperature and make you feel lighter than air.
But the lovely lapping water hides a toxic secret. Most pool owners use chlorine to ensure sanitary conditions for swimmers, but excessive exposure is anything but safe. According to the EPA, chlorine irritates the skin, eyes and respiratory system, and children who swim frequently in chlorinated pools may have increased risks of developing allergies or asthma. Chlorine exposure in adults has also been linked with other health problems including bladder and rectal cancer and, possibly, an increased risk for coronary heart disease, states Dr. Andrew Weil.
And that’s only what it can do to humans. Chlorine can also escape from water and enter air under certain conditions. “Once in air or in water, chlorine reacts with other chemicals,” explains the EPA. “It combines within organic material in water to form chloride salts. It combines with organic material in water to form chlorinated organic chemicals.” Draining a chlorinated pool at the end of the season is toxic to local waterways, putting plants and animals at risk.
To avoid swimming in a potentially poisonous stew, some homeowners and designers have developed cleaner, greener alternatives. These eco-friendly pools look slightly different, but I promise, they’re just as refreshing and will actually enhance the environment instead of hurting it.
Salt Water Pools
If you’ve ever been to the beach, you’ve probably noticed that there’s no chlorine or filtration system. The ocean’s natural saline composition helps to keep everything in balance without artificial chemicals. Recently, this has become a trend for inland pools as well. In this Wall Street Journal article, the author describes switching a full-chlorine pool to saline. “Saline pools use a chlorine generator cell and a few bags of table salt to produce electrolysis, turning the salt into chlorine or hypochlorous acid, which vaporizes algae and bacteria…An algae-free, mildly saline oasis is painless to maintain. You must clean the chlorine cell once a year to keep calcium buildup at bay, but otherwise simply sprinkle $10 dollars worth of salt in the water once a month and you’re done.” Not only will you feel more buoyant in the water, but your skin will feel silky instead of shriveled when you emerge.
If you’ve already got a pool you love, but are looking for a more natural way to keep it clean, an ozone sterilization system might be the perfect upgrade. Based on the fact that sunlight is one of the world’s most powerful disinfectants, ozone pool systems convert oxygen into bacteria-busting ozone using electricity. Some, like the DEL Solar Eclipse pictured above, can reduce the need for chemicals by over 80 percent, while others, like the ECOsmarte ozone/ion system, can eliminate them altogether.
>>Keep Reading for more eco-friendly pools!
Natural Swimming Pools
Instead of paddling around in a sterile bathtub, why not glide through your very own swimming hole? Long a favorite in Europe, and now slowly becoming more popular in the U.S., natural swimming pools have sloping sides and lots of plants, just like a pond or lake. Incorporating plants eliminates the need for chlorine and expensive filters and pumps, keeps the water clear and provides a soothing atmosphere. Yes, there may be mud between your toes. Yes, the occasional duck or frog might want to join you, but at the end of the day, you have a more affordable, maintenance-free pool that’s much closer to what nature intended.
Normally moss in a pool might seem like a nasty problem, but it can actually be a very beneficial thing. Creative Water Solutions is a Minnesota-based company that utilizes sphagnum moss to keep swimming pools clean while using fewer chemicals and reducing water consumption. You’ve probably seen sphagnum moss (pictured above) used as a decoration in floral arrangement. A natural product of New Zealand bogs, it’s capable of filtering bacteria from pool water and can be composted when it’s time to be replaced (about every 30 days). It’s such a successful system, the city of St. Paul uses it in public pools, and the University of Maryland uses it to filter two on-campus indoor pools.