According to a new study conducted by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on May 20th, 2016, thousands of pools are shut down each year on account of poor swimming pool hygiene.

According to the study published online in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, in 2013, many public water parks and swimming pools had to be closed due to unhygienic conditions. Some of the water parks and pools were so unsanitary that they had to be closed immediately due to several major health and safety violations.

The researchers looked at data gathered by the Network for Aquatic Facility Inspection Surveillance (NAFIS) in 2013. The data was gathered by local agencies in the five most waterpark-populous states in the US — New York, Texas, Florida, Arizona and California.

In August 2014, CDC released the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) national guidance that could be adopted voluntarily by state and local jurisdictions to minimize the risk of illness and injury at public aquatic facilities. The research focused on 15 MAHC elements deemed critical to minimizing the risk of illness and injury associated with aquatic facilities. These included pathogen-preventing disinfectants, pool safety equipment and pool chemical safety.

According to the report, a total of 84,147 inspections were carried out at 48,632 venues by environmental health practitioners in the 16 reporting NAFIS jurisdictions. Officials found disinfectant concentration violations in 7662 cases (11.9%), which is quite severe since improper disinfectant levels can spread multiple bacterial infections. The highest safety violations were due to improper safety equipment which was found in 7845 cases (12.7%), all of which could increase risk of death by drowning. Negligible chemical safety regulations were observed in 471 cases (4.6%), which could cause respiratory diseases or severe chemical burns and skin rash.

As a result, 66,098 (78.5%) venues resulted in immediate closure while 12.3% (8,118) of the venues violated at least one of the health and safety violations which caused immediate shutdown. However, this data was only representative of 15.7% of the estimated 309,000 US public aquatic ventures that were located in the 16 jurisdictions. Kiddie pools saw the highest proportion of shutdowns, with 1 in 5 kiddie pools inspected being shut down immediately.

According to the State Department for Public Health, the State of Kentucky requires health departments to conduct two thorough examinations, once every six months, of every swimming pool during the peak season, to check for its continuous indoor operation as well as  to conduct monthly examinations of the chemical composition of pool water. One has to conduct his own examination, since not all states follow the same standards of hygiene testing.

Beth Fisher, spokesperson for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said in an e-mail, “The local health department environmentalists are the ones who do these inspections and monitors, so the records for these inspections are kept with each local health department,”

Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said in a news release that almost one-third of local health departments do not regulate, check or license public pools, water playgrounds or hot tubs. She encouraged people to read online reviews of public pools and water sports facilities, before using the facility. Moreover, even if states are conducting examinations it is not necessary that public pools will be safe.

Maintaining Optimum pH Levels

Hlavsa said that maintaining optimum pH levels is quite crucial, since it requires a balance of disinfectant and pH levels of pool-water.  Inadequate disinfectant levels or a pH that is outside a certain range could allow pathogens to survive in contaminated water, where they might be swallowed and make people sick.

The CDC recommends that chlorine amounts should be 1 parts per million (ppm) in public pools and water parks, and 3 ppm for jacuzzis and public hot tubs. Chlorine kills germs and bacteria but raises the pH levels. If the pH levels rise too high, chlorine becomes ineffective at killing bacteria. Swimmers are most comfortable at swimming at the ideal body pH levels of 7.2-7.8,

CDC recommended that pool-boys check the pH levels of the pool water at least twice daily and check disinfectants before adding them. Adding acid to the water to lower the pH levels was also suggested.

CDC’s Role In Regulating Safety And Swimming Pool Hygiene

Inspections will be done, once or thrice annually, to enforce CDC’s standards in public aquatic facilities. CDC enforced that public water park facilities should make public their health and safety scores online or onsite.

CDC also developed a set of guidelines, MAHC, to guide and inform local communities and environmental agencies to improve healthcare facilities, health and safety regulations and related practices in the peak swimming season. The guidelines were made available online on August 29th 2014.

Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands

Hlavsa said that to ensure water parks provide a safe and healthy experience, visitors need to run their own safety tests. pH strips are easily available, which the parks visitors can use to check the pH levels. They can also observe water clarity to make sure it is not cloudy or dirty, so a swimmer can be easily spotted by a lifeguard, thus preventing any accidents.

Hlavsa also suggested that safety equipment be placed in an easily accessible place, especially in the absence of a lifeguard. It is also important to shower before entering the pool to prevent the spread of skin bacteria.

Hence being well-informed is the key to fighting this epidemic.