A new study suggests pharmaceuticals and chemicals from personal care products end up in swimming pools, possibly interacting with chlorine to produce disinfection byproducts with unknown properties and health effects.
Chlorination is used primarily to prevent pathogenic microorganisms from growing. Previous research has shown that many constituents of urine including urea, uric acid, and amino acids, interact with chlorine to produce potentially hazardous disinfection byproducts in swimming pools. However, chemicals from pharmaceuticals and personal care products, or PPCPs, also could be interacting with chlorine, producing potentially harmful byproducts.
“The whole motivation for examining pharmaceuticals and personal care products is that there is this unknown potential for them to bring about undesired or unexpected effects in an exposed population,” said Ernest R. Blatchley III, a professor with a joint appointment in the Lyles School of Civil Engineering and the Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University. “There are literally thousands of chemicals from pharmaceuticals and personal care products that could be getting into swimming pool water.”
A research group led by Ching-Hua Huang, a professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has developed an analytical technique that identifies and quantifies 32 pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water.
“Because professor Huang had already developed an analytical method, which is a non-trivial effort, we thought, ‘Why not use it and see what we find in swimming pools?” said Blatchley, working with Huang and former Purdue doctoral student ShihChi Weng, now a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Water samples were taken from indoor swimming pools in Indiana and Georgia.
Findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared in December in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters. Of the 32 chemicals investigated, the researchers detected three: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, known as DEET, the active ingredient in insect repellants; caffeine; and tri(2-chloroethyl)-phosphate (TCEP), a flame retardant.
“The other 29 could have been present at concentrations below the detection level,” Blatchley said. “And because there are literally thousands of pharmaceuticals, this is just a small subset of compounds that could be present in swimming pools. The main issue is that the release of chemicals into a place like a swimming pool is completely uncontrolled and unknown. I don’t want to be an alarmist. We haven’t discovered anything that would be cause for alarm right now, but the bottom line is we just don’t know.”
Some chemicals are volatile, which means they can escape into the air to be inhaled. Others can be ingested or absorbed through the skin.
“Swimmers are exposed to chemicals through three different routes: You can inhale, you can ingest and it can go through your skin. So the exposure you receive in a swimming pool setting is potentially much more extensive than the exposure you would receive by just one route alone,” Blatchley said.
The Presence of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Swimming Pools, ShihChi Weng, Peizhe Sun, Weiwei Ben, Ching-Hua Huang, Lester T. Lee, and Ernest R. Blatchley III, Environmental Science and Technology Letters, DOI: 10.1021/ez5003133, published online 24 October 2014.
Source: Purdue University