It is common knowledge that public swimming pools need to be maintained and treated with chlorine and proper pH levels in order to protect swimmers, but a recent investigative report published in the AJC showed that many metro Atlanta pools and spas must have missed the memo.
In Gwinnett County alone, inspectors found at least 75 incidences where public pools and spas had not treated the water with chlorine. Hundreds more public pools and spas were closed due to critical violations over the summer – violations that could have put the bathing public at risk for waterborne diseases or infection by bacteria and parasites. Inspectors also found that some businesses were cited repeatedly, raising questions about these businesses’ habits when it comes to water treatment.
Public pools are especially prone to health issues due to the sheer amount of numbers of people who use the pool and, if the pool is used by children, the occurrence of what the pool industry called “fecal accidents.”
As quoted in the AJC:
“If the facility is run by the ignorant or the apathetic, that’s usually a problem,” said Tom Lachocki, chief executive officer of the National Swimming Pool Foundation, a leading trainer of pool operators.
“Fortunately, most of the illnesses one can get in a pool are not catastrophic,” he said. “But you don’t go to the pool to get diarrhea or a rash or sore eyes.”
Waterborne diseases can include gastrointestinal illness, an ailment that many people don’t associate with a trip to the pool or spa. Another risk is infection with the parasite cryptosporidium. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over the past few years they have been receiving an escalating number of reports of outbreaks associated with recreational water use.
Said the AJC:
For a study published last year, CDC researchers sampled water at 160 Atlanta-area pools to see how many were contaminated with cryptosporidium and another diarrhea-causing parasite, giardia. They found one or both of the parasites in 8 percent of the pools. Although the sample size was small, researchers said the results suggest contamination may be relatively common in some pools.
The CDC did offer up a tip for concerned public swimming pool users – test the water yourself. Pool supply shops and home supply stores sell simple test strips that will change color to show whether the pool’s chemistry is properly calibrated and it is safe for use. These strips are expensive, and an imperative if you plan to swim in a public pool.
The tip is especially relevant to parents. Wading or “kiddie” pools, due to their shallow depth and relatively low water volume, are especially challenging when it comes to pool maintenance, which can lead to disaster when combined with “fecal accidents.”
Since 2001, Georgia’s health department has confirmed seven pool-related outbreaks: one each at a camp, school and hotel; the rest were at subdivision pools or private homes. One of the state’s most famous waterborne incidents occurred in 1998 when 26 children who had visited the White Water Park in Marietta became ill from E. coli bacteria.
Do your part to keep public pools and spas safe. If your neighborhood has a pool, ask about maintenance. Use test strips to measure public pools and teach children pool safety from a young age.