The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report about the safety in public pools according to their level of compliance with health laws. The study used the data from inspections made to public pools across the country and the findings are disturbing:  8 out of 10 studied pools violated safety and health rules. 1 out of those 8 had to be closed due to the severe risk to public health it represented.

Fecal matter, parasites, and chemicals are among the most commons main risks to users of public pools, especially since these things can harm the human body from generating irritation in eyes to generate problems in the respiratory system.

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Inspections across the Country

Since 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a special agency and program to keep records about the safety of public pools, considering the health standards. The Network for Aquatic Facility Inspection and Surveillance is the main organ responsible for routine inspection nationwide.

More than 48,000 pools were subject to inspections, ending up in a report with more than 84,000 different results. However, users should not consider this report as the representative sample of public pools in the entire US territory. The results did not use enough data in order to generalize the conclusions throughout the country.

In the US, there are about 300,000 public water play facilities, most of them concentrated in five states: Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas, and it was in those states where most routine inspections were executed.

The main problems

Most public pools incurred in at least one safety violation, being two violations the median number. The highest record of violations was 21. However, the number of violations does not determine the severeness of the risks in the pools, since there are specific standards that, when not fulfilled, can lead to the immediate closure of the public facility while some others are not severe enough to lead to such a drastic action.

Pool’s pH level is one of the main index checked in routine inspections and most pools were not fulfilling the right level in order to consider it safe. The concentration of disinfectants and safety equipment were also common problems.

Bacterial content on the pool water revealed that several types of pathogens were present, probably as a result of fecal material in the water, since most bacteria found was the type that lives in the digestive tract of humans and other non-marine animals. Some of the bacteria in public pools can cause inflammation in the ear canal and itchy skin, among some other affections.

These type of bacteria goes into the pool water when people do not take previous showers or enter the public pool while suffering some affection that makes him or her exude the bacteria into the water.  Urine and sweat can also be a potential chemical-changer to the regular chemical levels in the pool’s water. Good hygiene and stronger rules in the health department could decrease the risks.

Should we stop swimming?

Although the results are encouraging most people to stop using public water facilities, that is not the goal of the CDC. Instead, the organization’s spokesmen claimed that swimming and water-based activity is positive to general health and it is the best option for several subjects with severe medical conditions. The real goal of the report is to improve health and safety awareness in public pools and to make the managers of public pools and water-based public facilities to keep up with the health laws in order to offer good services.

Even the State’s Departments of Health are involved in the work of making authorities of this spaces develop and comply a health code, and this trend in new. Pool’s inspections haven’t been the priority to public health agencies and health regulations for this kind of facilities are not primary to lawmakers.

Considering that swimming in public pools is one of the most common activities for American children and teens, the safety in this type of water-based facilities must be a priority both for authorities of the public pool itself (that can be water parks, clubs and other kinds of venues) as to public health authorities in each state. Of course, citizens that commonly use public pools should consider this report as a warning and a chance to start being aware of the health situation in the facilities they visit regularly.

The recommendation provided by the CDC agency is to carry test strips, available at hardware stores and pool supplies departments, to measure regular safety levels such as pH and amount of disinfectants. According to the agency, the pH range for a healthy pool is between 7.2 and 7.8. The concentration of chlorine should be at least 1 part per million in regular pool water while for bromine, the concentration in pool water should be at least 3 ppm.

Health standards in the public pools should be a relevant issue across the country since disease outbreaks of infectious and/or chemical etiology, and pool chemical-associated health events are common illness and injuries in the United States.

According to the CDC:

“These conditions affect persons of all ages, particularly young children, and can lead to disability or even death. During 2003–2012, pool chemical–associated health events resulted in an estimated 3,000–5,000 visits to U.S. emergency departments each year, and approximately half of the patients were aged <18 years.”

So far, the Model Aquatic Health Code has been the institutionalized effort to provide guidance that can be adopted by state jurisdictions to minimize the risk for illness at public water-based facilities. The Network for Aquatic Facility Inspection Surveillance was also established as a useful network to assess the operation and maintenance of these facilities.

The Model Health Code provides a legal framework and minimum standards that must be taken into account when the Network starts making regular inspections.   Those routine analyses of aquatic facilities can inform users of the evaluation on public health standards and the implementation the public facility is planning.

These initiatives are critical to the protection of public health and determine the actions that must be taken by authorities and users to improve the health system in such a relevant field to recreation and physical and mental health of Americans.

Source: CDC