Making Swimming Pools Safer: Does Copper-Silver Ionization with Chlorine Lower the Toxicity and Disinfection Byproduct Formation?

Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Mar 2;55(5):2908-2918. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.0c06287. Epub 2021 Feb 17.


Swimming pools are commonly treated with chlorine, which reacts with the natural organic matter and organic matter introduced by swimmers and form disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that are associated with respiratory-related issues, including asthma, in avid swimmers. We investigated a complementary disinfectant to chlorine, copper-silver ionization (CSI), with the aim of lowering the amount of chlorine used in pools and limiting health risks from DBPs. We sampled an indoor and outdoor pool treated with CSI-chlorine during the swimming season in 2017-2018 and measured 71 DBPs, speciated total organic halogen, in vitro mammalian cell cytotoxicity, and N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) thiol reactivity as a cytotoxicity predictor. Controlled, simulated swimming pools were also investigated. Emerging DBP concentrations decreased by as much as 80% and cytotoxicity decreased as much as 70% in the indoor pool when a lower chlorine residual (1.0 mg/L) and CSI was used. Some DBPs were quantified for the first time in pools, including chloroacetaldehyde (up to 10.6 μg/L), the most cytotoxic haloacetaldehyde studied to date and a major driver of the measured cytotoxicity in this study. Three highly toxic iodinated haloacetic acids (iodoacetic acid, bromoiodoacetic acid, and chloroiodoacetic acid) were also quantified in pools for the first time. We also found that the NAC thiol reactivity was significantly correlated to cytotoxicity, which could be useful for predicting the cytotoxicity of swimming pool waters in future studies.

Keywords: complementary disinfectant; copper–silver ionization; cytotoxicity; disinfection byproducts; indoor and outdoor swimming pool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chlorine
  • Copper / toxicity
  • Disinfectants* / toxicity
  • Disinfection
  • Silver
  • Swimming Pools*
  • Trihalomethanes / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / toxicity


  • Disinfectants
  • Trihalomethanes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Silver
  • Chlorine
  • Copper