A cold glass of pool water?

Dear Editor:
The article entitled “Water in an Emergency” (Chris Floyd, WC&P, pp. 68-69) in the April issue was an excellent cookbook on how to purify stored water sources in the event of an unforeseen emergency. Definitely a keeper to file away.

The one source of water that I began to think about, however, was not addressed. That would be water stored in a permanent pool. I would have several questions regarding this water source:

  1. I have heard conflicting opinions as to the viability of pool water for human consumption. Some say that the chemicals used to clarify the water can cause damage to internal organs (i.e., kidneys, liver, etc.). Is this a valid concern?
  2. Can these chemicals be rendered harmless using any of the purification techniques mentioned in the article?

Jim Ellison, Senior Estimator
Can-Am Plumbing Inc.
Pleasanton, Calif.

WC&P Technical Review Committee: The answer to both questions is yes. On the first, though, some pool chemicals are relatively benign. In other words, if you’re using just chlorine, hydrochloric acid and soda ash, chances are you could drink the pool water if the chlorine wasn’t terribly high. A pool test kit will give you an indication of this. If you’re using a chlorine beach that is buffered, that’s not the case. Sometimes they’re buffered with cyanate—or cyanuric acid—which prevents the chlorine from swinging the pH too broadly. These chlorine pool products are known as trichlor and dichlor. If you’re using anything other than straight chlorine (i.e., household bleach), one shouldn’t drink the water. It’s generally assumed that some pool water inevitably will be ingested from time to time, which in small quantities wouldn’t be harmful. It’s like drinking out of the bathtub. However, reverse osmosis and distillation would clean up the water nicely for potable purposes. In an emergency, one could use carbon filters to reduce bleach to some degree, but this wouldn’t be as effective on pool water with buffered chlorine. You would need relatively long contact times in carbon and still would be somewhat unsure whether you’re removing it all—again, in an emergency. Don’t forget, though, that if the emergency is flooding or some other disaster that may compromise the water in the pool, all bets may be off regarding its safety.


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