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4 Health Hazards in the Water

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4 Health Hazards in the Water

By Pamela Weintraub, Experience Life

Sharks in the water! Chlorine that seals your contact lenses to your eyes! Antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the beaches! When it comes to recreational swimming, it can be tough to differentiate between overblown fears and more common (and manageable) health hazards.

Swimming is one of summer’s best-loved activities, providing ample fitness benefits in the company of friends — yet it often provokes anxiety. And the truth is, swimming does carry some risks: Open water can carry viral infections from sewage; chlorinated pool water can provoke asthma; and cloudy lakes may contain cyanobacteria, known to carry neurotoxins and cause disease. But with a little awareness, these hazards can be negotiated. By staying alert to red flags and following some simple safety guidelines, recreational swimmers can splash around safely.

Concern: Bacterial and Viral Infections
Source: Oceans, rivers, lakes, pools and hot tubs. In natural bodies of water and outdoor pools, bacterial and viral infections, otherwise known as recreational water illnesses (RWIs), often come from pollution delivered by sewage or rainwater runoff. In indoor pools or crowded beaches, infections may come from other swimmers.

Symptoms: A wide variety of skin, ear, eye and respiratory issues. Gastrointestinal problems, including diarrheal illnesses, are caused by organisms ranging from Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium) and giardia to shigella and E. coli. “Viruses are assumed to be the cause of most waterborne illness, but the specific virus that causes an illness is usually unknown,” says John Wathen, a beach water expert with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C.

Avoiding risk: According to David Beckman, director of the Water Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), beachgoers can reduce their chances of getting sick by swimming only at sites where authorities test the water frequently and close the beach or issue an advisory when it is polluted. Healthy strategies include staying out of the water when there are closings or advisories, avoiding swimming near discharge pipes, and keeping dry if you have an open wound. Wathen recommends avoiding beaches for a couple of days after a heavy rain and staying attuned to murky water or foul smells. Indoors or out, make sure that your pool water is properly and adequately treated with an anticontaminant.

Following exposure: Rinse off well. Clean skin abrasions. Dry out your ears. Take a shower and wash swimsuits and towels as soon as possible.

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Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.


+ add your own
12:13AM PDT on May 27, 2013

Thanks for the info.

12:51AM PDT on Jul 3, 2010


7:05AM PDT on Jun 8, 2010

My father knew this all the years, this is today´s scourge

5:15PM PDT on Jun 6, 2010

I remember being little and no one thought of polluted water. Just another example of taking something for granted.

11:15PM PDT on Jun 5, 2010

aww the description of neurotoxins reminds me of a horrible sight at redhill park (i think it is called) in rancho cucamonga, ca there is a bunch of fish, turtles and ducks living in murky waters

8:22AM PDT on Jun 4, 2010

Good, commonsense guidelines. Thanks.

9:02AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

Thanks for the info!

11:25PM PDT on Jun 1, 2010

Very interesting, thanks for the info!

3:44PM PDT on May 31, 2010

I am not surprised. OH, MY GOSH !! Makes you think before you drink. YET WATER IS OUR BEST & MOST NEED DRINK. suppose to have nearly a 1/2 gal a day. We are screwing up all God's good stuff. I pray we have the answer to the HUGE oil slick down south.....

11:09AM PDT on May 31, 2010

Thanks for the lesson. I am in constant control of my pool. Now I will be even more viligant.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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