Is Swimming Pool Water Safe to Drink?

In large areas of the U.S. there are many swimming pools filled with nice sparkling clean water.  At least it looks clean, but is it safe to drink?

Fema says no.  In their report on The Role of Transportation in Campus Emergency Planning, prepared by Frannie Edwards and Dan Goodrich, given at the FEMA Higher Education Conference, Emmitsburg, Maryland, June 8, 2010, they stated the following.

“Swimming pool water should never be used for drinking, although it may be used for sanitation, bathing and laundry if necessary”.

In their pamphlets on safe sources of drinking water, Fema lists the followings as unsafe sources.

  • Radiators Hot water boilers (home heating systems).
  • Water from the toilet bowl or flush tank.
  • Waterbeds.  Fungicides added to the water or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe to use.
  • Swimming pools and spas.  Chemicals used to kill germs are too concentrated for safe drinking but can be used for personal hygiene, cleaning and related uses.

Why isn’t it safe, you swim in it and probably swallow a bit every now and then?  Well, there are several problems to overcome.  First, once the power is off, the pumps will stop, decreasing the filtration and movement of water.  Sunlight causes chlorine to breakdown so bacteria can start to grow.  Depending on the time of year, and temperature, the pool water will begin to deteriorate and start to grow algae after a few days without filtration or treatment.  This deterioration can be slowed down if the pool is immediately covered to protect it from sunlight.

“Thomas Lachocki, the CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, says that in order to be properly chlorinated,  pools should contain 1-4  parts per million of chlorine and pH levels should be within 7.2–7.8.”

You can go to almost any big box store and go into the pool chemical aisle and buy test stripes.  All of these have chlorine and pH tests.  “In five seconds, you can do a quick analysis yourself and have an idea of what the various levels are,” he says.

But if you don’t have the time to do your own testing, look for clear water.  “You should always be able to see the bottom of the pool clearly.  Usually if the water is cloudy, something with the filter or chemicals isn’t right,” says Lachocki. ”Clear water doesn’t mean everything is alright, but cloudy water is an absolute positive sign that something is not right.”

However, that is not the most important reason for not drinking pool water, while the chlorine breaks down in sunlight; many of the stabilizers, algacides, pH balancers, etc do not.  You have no idea  what type of chemical buildup you may have in a pool, especially if it is not your own.

A third issue is a report prepared after a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing that 58 percent of public swimming pools contained E. coli bacteria.  Be very careful of public pools.

If I owned a pool, I would learn what type of chemical were used to maintain it and what type of problems they would cause.  In case of an emergency, I would cover the pool immediately for several reasons.  This would help to slow down the breakdown of the chlorine, but it would also help to keep the water clean and depending on the season, slow down the growth of mosquitoes.

As much as possible I would treat the pool water the same as gray water.  It would be used for gardening and sanitation.  If it becomes necessary to drink it, I would treat it as any other untreated water source.  If possible, I would run it through a good filter like the Berkey.  Boiling may not remove the various chemicals that have built up in the water.

Remember, that unless the pool is your own, you will not know what someone else may have put in their pool besides chlorine.

Howard

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12 thoughts on “Is Swimming Pool Water Safe to Drink?”

  1. Yes, it is true, swimming pool water can contain noxious/toxic chemicals that can’t be filtered out.

    HOWEVER, if you have an abundant supply of fire wood and some simple moonshine equipment you can distill pool water to make safe drinking water.
    Yes, operating a still is illegal, but, being illegal is better than being sick or dead.

    Hangtown Frank

  2. Mystery Guest

    Well Fema doesn’t want you to do much of anything. But I never thought of the other agents used in pool maintenance. If it was just the pool shock wouldn’t think twice about it.
    But it’s nice they say it is okay for sanitation purposes.
    Most water filters tout filtering yukky, stagnant water so do not see where if the source doesn’t have other man made contaminates in it that it would hurt to use the water in a pool say that has been specially stored and then the pump went out.
    Between you can do this or you can’t do that and the constant differences in shelf life of food one should give up now go sit in a corner and just turn to goo.

  3. I live in TOLEDO, OHIO. Three days now without water and no end in site. The City people r not telling us how long it will take to clean up this mess if and when the lake gets back to normal. We, my neighbors and friends r trying to figure out where to get water. Our State is allowing only one gallon per family.
    I have a pool. I use chlorine and algaecide weekly as needed. Some people say the plastic liner leaks BPA (not sure that’s what it’s called) into the water. We still have power so my big sand filter runs all day and night.
    I live with my mother who has Alzheimer’s. so, we don’t need much. I want to help the neighbors out. Can someone please tell me what to do to make the pool water useable and hopefully drinkable. I’m mostly worried about the algaecide I’ve used. Can that be boiled out? What should I buy. Our Mayor just said this is going to be our “New Normal”. We all need some advise.
    Thank you so much.

  4. Christopher de Vidal

    Hangtown Frank on July 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm said: “operating a still is illegal”

    Operating an alcohol still, that is. Water stills, also called “distillers”, are sold all over the place. Thus, you could legally use your moonshining equipment to produce pure water. Though you might have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do if the po-po shows up.

  5. Christopher de Vidal

    The article asked the question, “Why isn’t it safe, you swim in it and probably swallow a bit every now and then?”

    I didn’t see an answer, so I’ll take a crack at it: The little bit you swallow now and then would indeed be toxic in larger doses. The reason we can handle swimming in pool chemicals and ingesting a little here and there is because our intake is so small. It’s one thing to swallow a teaspoon every few days, but quite another to drink a gallon every day.

  6. A charcoal or granular activated carbon (GAC) filter can reduce chloramine concentrations of 1 to 2 mg/L to less than 0.1 mg/L. The GAC filter may be followed by a reverse osmosis (RO) filter
    to remove the carbon fines. RO should not be used alone as chloramine will pass through the membrane and may damage the RO membrane elements (some RO units are resistant to
    chlorine and chloramine). A GAC filter will remove chloramine, allowing RO to effectively remove other constituents.

  7. I use only ordinary Clorox bleach in my pool, for that very reason of being able to filter it for drinking water in an emergency. Between that and my Big Berkey water filter I have an abundant supply of water.
    Berkey themselves say not to use pool water for the reasons given in this article. So you should use ONLY your own pool water if you have not added other chemicals.
    So the next time you drain your pool, think about using only bleach. Mine takes 1 gallon every other day to stop the algae growth.

  8. I do not really understand much about how chemicals work but I do know for a fact that chemicals are dangerous to the health. It is toxic. Yes we hear many people who say they have swallowed chlorine treated water while swimming and have safely gotten away with the danger…but the thing is, it was just a gulp of water. Thinking about consuming pool water as drinking water is another story. I really do not think it safe and it must be avoided. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

    1. The best way to purify pool water for drinking is distillation. You’ll need to remove mineral solids, mostly, and those will clog the very fine pores of high quality water filters.

  9. Good article and appreciate the comments.
    How about a salt water filtration system on a pool. Can the water be safely filtered in a berkey?
    I know being stranded on a body of salt water one would go down the tubes fast if enough was drank so is it the same principle for a salt water pool? Perhaps adding bleach to the pool makes more sense and having extra berkey filters on hand since it causes more wear with chlorine even in bleach.

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