April 24, 2019
Stay Safe at Public Pools

Stay Safe at Public Pools

by Health After 50  

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water … The CDC is warning swimmers that many public pools are in violation of health and safety regulations—potentially putting you at risk for serious illness or injury.

In a report published in 2016 in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers analyzed data from more than 84,000 inspections conducted in 2013 on almost 50,000 public pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds, and other treated-water venues in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas.

Nearly 80 percent of public water sites in the report had at least one violation, and one in eight required immediate closure because of serious violations. One in five kiddie and wading pools were also closed.

The most common violation involved pH levels, which is a measurement of the water’s acidity. Improper pH levels can cause skin and eye irritation and affect the ability of chlorine and other disinfectants to kill bacteria such as E. coli and Cryptosporidium (“Crypto”), a parasite. Other violations included inadequate disinfectant concentration and a lack of safety equipment.

More recently, the CDC reported in May 2017 that outbreaks of Crypto linked to swimming pools and water playgrounds have doubled since 2014. Crypto is not easily killed by chlorine and can survive up to 10 days even in properly treated water.Swallowing just a mouthful of water contaminated with Cryptocan make otherwise healthy people sick for up to three weeks with watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, and other gastrointestinal symptoms, according to the CDC.

What you can do

Unfortunately, according to CDC experts, almost one-third of local public health departments don’t inspect or otherwise regulate health and safety standards at public swimming areas. But don’tpack away your bathing suit and become a landlubber just yet—after all, swimming is a great way to exercise and spend time with family and friends.

As daunting as it may sound, conducting your own inspection before using a public pool or hot tub isn’t difficult. You just need to buy test strips, available at most superstores, pool-supply stores, and hardware stores, bring one with you on your next swim outing, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to check the water’s pH and disinfectant levels.

Here are some additional tips, courtesy of the CDC, to ensure your swimming spot is safe:

  • Ask to see the pool’s latest inspection results. Some state departments of health publish searchable inspection reports and data online, as does Florida’s Department of Health.
  • Make sure a lifeguard is on duty or that safety equipment, such as a rescue ring or a pole, is readily available.
  • Check that the water is clear enough for you to see the drain at the bottom of the pool’s deep end. That’s a good sign that a lifeguard or fellow swimmer can spot you if you need help.
  • Inspect the drain covers for any damage. Loose or broken drain covers can trap you underwater.
  • Avoid swallowing any water.
  • Alert a lifeguard or other pool personnel if you notice a problem so they can correct any issue.

You can also do your part to keep the water safe for other swimmers:

  • Shower before you get in the pool to rinse away sweat, dirt and bacteria.
  • Don't swim or let kids swim if sick with diarrhea. Also stay out of the water if you have an uncovered, open wound.
  • Resist the urge to use the pool instead of the bathroom.

Also see Swimmer's Ear: Causes and Treatments.

This article was adapted from the August 2016 issue of Health After 50 Newsletter.