After years and years of competitive swimming, and training, and peeing in pools all over the planet, I learned the toxic truth regarding my actions: it can kill.
I've read this before, but I never really paid attention. Now it seems the news is everywhere, or maybe I'm just getting older and more susceptible to worrying.
Apparently, organic material such as hair, skin, dried sweat and urine, reacts with chlorine, creating disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that are 10,000 times more toxic than just chlorine.
Common DBPs formed from this swimming pool cocktail are trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. Trihalomethanes, Cancer Group B carcinogens, cause cancer in lab rats. They've also been implicated in other disturbing problems; spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, congenital malformations.
The bad news doesn't end there. DBPs weaken your immune system, screw with your nervous system, and deteriorate your cardiovascular system.
I learned this "web-found wisdom" on December 26th, that wonderfully lazy day after Christmas. Traditionally, our family mounts a movie-marathon effort, and this year was no different. (We sat through Avatar, Alvin and The Chipmucks' Squeak-quel, Nine, and Sherlock Holmes.) I love this movie-indulgent day, even look forward to it more than JC's birthday.
I didn't enjoy our theater romp as much this time around. I wondered if I was dying, or on a health-related decline which would leave me shriveled and decaying in my golden years--a period I've always looked forward to, romantically imagining myself pouchy and gray, still wearing my banana-hammock proudly.
Can swimming kill me? Really? I wondered in semi-disbelief. Then David Berkoff floated into my thoughts, an old Olympic teammate (and gold medalist), the first man to wow the world with his incredibly fast underwater dolphin kick. I remember David, a Harvard graduate, saying, "Chlorine causes cancer. You don't think so, but studies will prove it some day."
Sitting in the dark theater, while a newly-envisioned Sherlock Holmes kicked butt, my mind wound through all the years of swimming indoors, in dungeon pools, suffering from coughing fits. If you're from that era of swimming, you know what I mean. We called those chemically burning afflictions "chlorine lung". (Does anyone out there call it by any other name?)
I've had two days now to digest this health-related information, though I was hoping someone might step up and refute it, in the interim. I don't think it's concern for swimmers swimming in well ventilated pools today, but I'd like to hear a strong counter to the information I read on the day after Christmas day.
In the meantime, I'm off to the pool. Christmas training so many Christmases in row is a habit I haven't been able to shake.
If you don't know or remember Olympic gold medalist, David Berkoff, here's some old footage I found of him captured right before the '88 Olympic Trials: