Health effects of disinfection by-products in chlorinated swimming pools

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2011 Nov;214(6):461-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2011.07.012. Epub 2011 Sep 1.


Increased attendance at swimming pools is correlated with higher input of organic and minerals pollutants introduced by swimmers in the swimming pool water. In most swimming pools, microbiological control is performed by disinfection with the addition of chlorine. Chlorine is now well-known to lead to the formation of many disinfection by-products (DBPs) including trihalomethanes and chloramines. The hypothesis of a link between the presence of eye and skin irritation syndromes in swimmers and contact with swimming pool water treated with chlorine was initially proposed by Mood (1953). During recent decades many epidemiological studies have described the importance of DBPs generated with natural or imported organic matter present in water. Many of these DBPs are suspected to be toxic or even carcinogenic. Trihalomethanes and haloacetic acid families are the most studied but others DBPs, like chloral hydrate, haloacetonitriles, N-nitrosodimethylamine and the bromate ion, are emerging compounds of interest. Epidemiological data about the risk of cancer are still controversial. However, numerous publications highlight a toxic risk especially the risk of allergy and respiratory symptoms for babies and elite swimmers. The few publications dedicated to risk assessment do not suggest increased risk, other than for elite swimmers. These publications are likely to underestimate the risk associated with DBPs because of the lack of data in the literature precludes the calculation of risk associated with certain compounds or certain pathways. Thus for regulations, the need to take into account the risks associated with disinfection by-products is now important without forgetting the need of the control of microbiological hazards in swimming pools.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asthma / chemically induced
  • Carcinogens
  • Chloramines / toxicity*
  • Disinfection*
  • Humans
  • Risk Assessment
  • Swimming Pools*
  • Trihalomethanes / toxicity*


  • Carcinogens
  • Chloramines
  • Trihalomethanes