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Pool Chemicals Send Thousands to ER Each Summer

Pool Chemicals

When you're enjoying the pool this summer, preventing drowning and protecting your skin from the damaging rays of the sun should be top of mind. But what about chemical burns?

According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pool chemicals were responsible for nearly 5,000 emergency room visits in 2012. The majority of such injuries occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the months during which most Utah residents are using their pools. Almost half of the injuries were to children and teens, and more than one-third happened where people are supposed to feel safest: at home.

Scott Youngquist, MD, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, has seen his fair share of pool chemical-related injuries, mainly skin burns, eye irritation and respiratory problems.

"The most common scenario happens at the beginning of season. You're ready to treat the pool for the first time, you open the bucket of chlorine tablets too close to your face, and you can get burns to the eyes, nose and mouth," he says.

Preventing Pool Chemical Injuries

Youngquist cautions that while chlorine is effective at killing pool bacteria, it can be a potentially dangerous substance. In fact, chlorine was used in chemical warfare during World War I.

Although many injuries from pool chemicals are minor, some respiratory symptoms persist for months or even years.

Youngquist recommends handling pool chemicals in a well-ventilated area and stepping back upon opening a container of chemicals. Also, keep kids away when handling chlorine, as smaller doses can cause them more serious injuries.

Here are more safety tips from the CDC:

  • Read and follow directions on product labels.
  • Wear appropriate safety equipment, such as goggles and masks, as directed, when handling pool chemicals.
  • Secure pool chemicals to protect people and animals.
  • Never mix different pool chemicals with each other, especially chlorine products with acid.
  • Pre-dissolve pool chemicals only when directed by product label.
  • Add pool chemical to water, never water to pool chemicals.