Prevention of diseases in swimming pools and spas

Disease prevention should be the top priority for every water quality management program for pool and spa operators. Disinfection is critical to protect against pathogens, and is best managed through routine monitoring and maintenance of chemical feed equipment to ensure optimum chemical levels in accordance with state and local regulations.

Pool & Spa Maintenance & Repair

Modern digital equipment when used in conjunction with automatic chemical feeders results in stable pH and chlorine levels. Local jurisdiction may demand a wait time if chemicals are added by hand to the water so that swimmers are not injured.

Chemical parameters include disinfectant levels according to regulated pesticide label directions. pH should be kept between 7.2-7.8. Human tears have a pH of 7.4, making this an ideal point to set a pool. More often than not, it is improper pH and not the sanitizer that is responsible for irritating swimmers’ skin and eyes.

Total alkalinity should be 80-120 ppm and calcium hardness between 200 – 400 ppm.

Good hygienic behavior at swimming pools is also important for reducing health risk factors at swimming pools and spas. Showering before swimming can reduce introduction of contaminants, and showering again after swimming will help to remove any.

Those with diarrhea or other gastroenteritis illnesses should not swim within 2 weeks of an outbreak, especially children. Cryptosporidium is chlorine resistant.

To minimize exposure to pathogens, swimmers should avoid getting water into their mouths and never swallow pool or spa water.


Maintaining an effective concentration of disinfectant is critically important in assuring the safety and health of swimming pool and spa users. When any of these pool chemicals are used, it is very important to keep the pH of the pool in the range 7.2 to 7.8-according to the Langelier Saturation Index, or 7.8 to 8.2- according to the Hamilton Index; higher pH drastically reduces the sanitizing power of the chlorine due to reduced oxidation-reduction potential (ORP), while lower pH causes bather discomfort, especially to the eyes. However, according to the Hamilton Index, a higher pH can reduce unnecessary chlorine consumption while still remaining effective at preventing algae and bacteria growth.

To help ensure the health of bathers and protect pool equipment, it is essential to perform routine monitoring of water quality factors (or “parameters”) on a regular basis. This process becomes the essence of an optimum water quality management program.

Systems and disinfection methods

Chlorine and bromine methods

Conventional halogen-based oxidizers such as chlorine and bromine are convenient and economical primary sanitizers for swimming pools and provide a residual level of sanitizer that remains in the water. Chlorine-releasing compounds are the most popular and frequently used in swimming pools whereas bromine-releasing compounds have found heightened popularity in spas and hot tubs. Both are members of the halogen group with demonstrated ability to destroy and deactivate a wide range of potentially dangerous bacteria and viruses in swimming pools and spas. Both exhibit three essential elements as ideal first-line-of-defense sanitizers for swimming pools and spas: they are fast-acting and enduring, they are effective algaecides, and they oxidize undesired contaminants.

Swimming pools can be disinfected with a variety of chlorine-releasing compounds. The most basic of these compounds is molecular chlorine (Cl2); however, its application is primarily in large commercial public swimming pools. Inorganic forms of chlorine-releasing compounds frequently used in residential and public swimming pools include sodium hypochlorite commonly known as liquid bleach or simply bleach, calcium hypochlorite and lithium hypochlorite. Chlorine residuals from Cl2 and inorganic chlorine-releasing compounds break down rapidly in sunlight. To extend their disinfectant usefulness and persistence in outdoor settings, swimming pools treated with one or more of the inorganic forms of chlorine-releasing compounds can be supplemented with cyanuric acid—a granular stabilizing agent capable of extending the active chlorine residual half-life (t½) by four to sixfold. Chlorinated isocyanurates, a family of organic chlorine-releasing compounds, are stabilized to prevent UV degradation due to the presence of cyanurate as part of their chemical backbone.

Chlorine reacting with urea in urine and other nitrogen-containing wastes from bathers can produce chloramines. Chloramines typically occur when an insufficient amount of chlorine is used to disinfect a contaminated pool. Chloramines are generally responsible for the noxious, irritating smell prominently occurring in indoor pool settings. A common way to remove chloramines is to “superchlorinate” (commonly called “shocking”) the pool with a high dose of inorganic chlorine sufficient to deliver 10 ppm chlorine. Regular superchlorination (every two weeks in summer) helps to eliminate these unpleasant odors in the pool. Levels of chloramines and other volatile compounds in water can be minimized by reducing contaminants that lead to their formation (e.g., urea, creatinine, amino acids and personal care products) as well as by use of non-chlorine “shock oxidizers” such as potassium peroxymonosulfate.

Medium pressure UV technology is used to control the level of chloramines in indoor pools. It is also used as a secondary form of disinfection to address chlorine tolerant pathogens. A properly sized and maintained UV system should remove the need to shock for chloramines, although shocking would still be used to address a fecal accident in the pool. UV will not replace chlorine, but is used to control the level of chloramines, which are responsible for the odor, irritation, and enhanced corrosion at an indoor pool.

Copper ion system

Copper ion systems use a low voltage current across copper bars (solid copper, or a mixture of copper and zinc or silver) to free copper ions into the flow of pool water to kill organisms such as algae in the water and provide a “residual” in the water. Alternative systems also use titanium plates to produce oxygen in the water to help degrade organic compounds.