High disease risk identified in NSW Hunter Region pools

By Damon Cronshaw
Monday, 25 November, 2013

Public swimming pools in the NSW Hunter region are sharing water between toddler and main pools, a practice that carries a high risk for infectious disease outbreaks from pathogens like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, along with a range of viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Lake Macquarie, Newcastle, Cessnock, Maitland and Port Stephens councils have all confirmed most of their public swim centres have pools that use the same water treatment system.

Health authorities “strongly recommend” high-risk pools have separate treatment and circulation systems, but it is not law. A NSW Health advisory document said high-risk pools were those used by toddlers, infants learning to swim and “faecally incontinent persons”.

Lake Macquarie City Council says it is planning to seek quotes from pool designers to build separate treatment systems for toddler and learn-to-swim pools at Charlestown, Morisset, Speers Point and Swansea.

Construction was planned to begin in April next year.

“We think it’s best practice, that’s why we’re looking to do it,” a council spokeswoman said. “Council has ensured it has the appropriate systems in place to maintain high standards of water quality.”

Newcastle City Council said water was tested every three hours at its five inland swim centres “to ensure quality meets industry regulation”.

“Water quality at our public pools is outstanding, especially given the age of pools,” a spokeswoman said.

“There is not a separate system for toddler pools from main pools, but it certainly is something we hope to achieve in future.”

The Newcastle council spokeswoman said the water playground at Lambton Swim Centre operated on a separate system because it was new.

Maitland council community and recreation services manager Lynn Morton said the health advisory document “does serve as a guide in the planning and delivery of new pools”.

“It would be very costly to retrofit in older, more established pools,” Morton said.

The advisory document suggests ways for councils, which cannot afford to upgrade, to minimise risks.

Ms Morton said Maitland Aquatic Centre had one treatment system for its pools, but East Maitland Aquatic Centre "does have a separate treatment system for the toddler pool and main 50-metre pool".

Both pools passed aquatic safety checks in 2012-13, she said.

According to the NSW Health advisory document, pools could be contaminated with the pathogens cryptosporidium and giardia, along with a range of viruses, bacteria and fungi.

"Swimming pools and spas are often associated with outbreaks of infectious diseases," it said.

"Toddler pools are more often associated with outbreaks."

Hunter New England Health environmental health manager Philippe Porigneaux said swimming was an important activity.

"In properly managed pools, the benefits of swimming far outweigh any risk of coming into contact with contamination," Mr Porigneaux said.

Swimmers should take steps to reduce the risk of pool contamination, such as showering before swimming.

"Even if a swimming pool or spa is properly managed and adequately disinfected, disease transmission can still occur due to faecal accidents, toddlers wearing poorly fitted pants and poor personal hygiene," he said.

"Anyone who has been unwell, particularly if they have had diarrhoea in the previous two weeks, should not swim."

The advisory document noted that disinfected pools and spas were "not sterile and cannot be made sterile".

"Contaminants are being constantly added to the pool by bathers and other sources," it said.

"Sufficient time is needed for disinfectant to inactivate contaminants."

Mr Porigneaux said it was not a requirement to have separate filtration/disinfection systems for multiple pools, but it was "strongly recommended".

Story republished with permission from Newcastle Herald

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