Beach and Swimming Pool Safety: Environmental Toxins and Chemical Concerns


As you prepare to let your kids explore the great outdoors this summer, you may have some nagging worries. What chemicals and environmental toxins might lurk in the local pool, lake, or beach? How can you protect your family from them?

The good news is that there are ways you can reduce their exposure to risky chemicals and environmental toxins. Here are outdoor safety tips on how to keep your kids healthy in the water.

Swimming Pools

When many of us were growing up, the summer didn’t really start until the local stomach bug.

  • Avoid swimming in a highly chlorinated pool every day.
  • If you have your own pool at home, you should

    • Make sure indoor pools have good ventilation — just opening the windows and doors can make a big difference in air quality.
    • Keep your pool free of leaves and insects.
    • If you use chlorine, make sure not to use more than necessary.

    If you’re interested, look into alternatives to chlorine for your own pool, or at least ways to reduce the amount you use. Alternative pool-cleaning methods include ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide, and iodine.

    What’s the downside? Many of these methods have not been independently tested, so no one knows how well they work. Certainly, don’t just assume that anything called a “natural” alternative to chlorine is preferable.


    One way to avoid the conundrum of the unsanitary versus over-chlorinated swimming pool is to swim in natural bodies of water. But there can still be risks of environmental toxins or chemical toxicants. How do you know if the water in the ocean, or lake, or pond, or swimming hole that your kids are splashing around in is actually safe?

    It’s not easy to figure out on your own, but Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., suggests starting with a phone call. “Call the local department of health,” she says. “They should be keeping an eye on local water quality issues and should give you some guidance.”

    The Environmental Protection Agency has some general tips for safe swimming.

    • Don’t swim after a heavy rain – rains can cause waste water to seep into lakes and oceans
    • This should be obvious, but if you see trash in the water, or if it smells bad, don’t go in
    • Stay away from potential sources of pollution, like pipes or runoff ditches
    • Don’t swallow the water — and with very small children, try to keep their heads above water.