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Health Effects of Swimming Pool Algae

by
author image Jared Paventi
Jared Paventi is the communications director for a disease-related nonprofit in the Northeast. He holds a master's degree from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication and a bachelor's degree from St. Bonaventure University. He also writes a food appreciation blog: Al Dente.
Health Effects of Swimming Pool Algae
Pool algae can make pool surfaces slippery and dangerous. Photo Credit swimming pool image by apeschi from Fotolia.com

The opening of swimming pools marks an annual rite of passage from spring to summer. As temperatures rise, children and adults flock to pools to cool off and take advantage of the nice weather. Swimming pool water, if not properly maintained, can lead to skin disorders and bacterial infections. Maintaining the proper pH balance, or alkalinity level, is key to preventing algae growth in hot and humid climates.

Skin Coating

Pool Center, an online swimming pool portal, reports that the primary cause of pool algae is an airborne spore that lands in the water. It can be transported by raindrops, which knock the spores out the air and into the pool, or transferred from unwashed, previously contaminated swimsuits or equipment. The most common form is green algae, which will turn the water from clear to a greenish color. Swimmers who enter a pool with algae will often find that their skin becomes slimy. This is the result of algae attaching itself to the body and swimming garment. While it is not dangerous, it can be aesthetically displeasing and potentially frighten children. Pool algae can be washed off the body with soap and water, and swimsuits should be washed in hot water to prevent cross-contamination.

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Slippery Stairs

Algae coats every underwater surface, causing pool floors, ladders and walls to become dangerously slippery. The buildup of slimy algae on stairways and ladders could lead to accidental falls, with injuries ranging from bumps or scrapes to brusies or bone breakages. It also presents a drowning hazard to younger or inexperienced swimmers, who may slip and fall in unexpectedly.

Rescue Prevention

According to the National Drowning Prevention Alliance, drowning is the second-leading cause of death for American children aged 1-4, and the top killer in that age group in the southern United States. Drowning can occur in a manner of seconds, so time is of the essence when a child goes underwater and does not come back up. Algae of every form causes clouding and discoloration of pool water, making it difficult to see with or without the aid of goggles. Regardless of pool size, removing the barriers for successful rescue is critical. ServiceMagic, a household cleaning website, reports that combining a potent algaecide and with a pool shock--large dose of chlorine--will treat algae-ridden water.

Promotes Harmful Bacteria Growth

Algae is a plant form, which survives through photosynthesis--the process of absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. University of California researchers write that aerobic bacteria "thrive in the presence of oxygen" and use it to grow and sustain life. One of those bacteria is E.coli, or Escherichia coli. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention writes that fecal-borne bacteria is the most common cause of pool-related illness. The microscopic organisms wash off the body and into the water without notice. The bacteria feed from the excess oxygen and spread throughout the pool. The CDC reports, "A single diarrheal incident from one person could contaminate water throughout a large pool system or waterpark."

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