What's lurking in the water?
As swimming season ramps up in the Northern Hemisphere, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has teamed up with the Water Quality & Health Council (WQHC) and the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF) to spread the word on the potential health risks associated with public swimming facilities.
The annual Healthy Pools survey is conducted by WQHC and this year found that 63% of adults fail to check health inspection reports prior to swimming in a public pool. A further 15% reported checking only sparingly.
In 2016, a CDC report found that almost eight in 10 routine public pool inspections turned up at least one health and safety violation — with one in eight being serious enough to warrant immediate closure.
“Swimmers and parents of young swimmers can take a few simple but effective steps to help protect themselves and their families from germs and maximise fun at the pool,” said Michele Hlavsa.
Hlavsa is an epidemiologist and chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, which provides information and guidance for swimmers, private pool owners, aquatics industry members and medical or pubic health professionals. She recommends that swimmers take a more considered approach to public facilities.
“Stay out or keep your kids out of the water if sick with diarrhoea, check the pool’s latest inspection score and do your own mini-inspection before getting in the water,” she said.
The national survey showed up some particularly unhealthy swimming habits, including:
- Most adults (52%) never shower before swimming and only 29% shower for at least one minute — the length of time needed to remove most contaminants from a swimmer’s body.
- One in four swimmers (27%) admits to peeing in a pool as an adult.
- 17% of adults would swim within one hour of having diarrhoea. This is especially concerning because Cryptosporidium — a microscopic parasite — is the most common cause of diarrhoeal illness linked to pools.
Because of these disturbing statistics, some pretty basic info is being issued by WQHC, NSPF and CDC.
“Swimming is a rite of summertime, but swimmers’ unhealthy swimming habits can make loved ones sick,” said Dr Chris Wiant, chair of the WQHC.
“We all share the water we swim in. And although chlorine and other pool chemical disinfectants are effective at disinfecting pools, they might be used up by contaminants, such as pee, sweat and dirt from swimmers’ bodies. Chlorine mixing with these contaminants is what makes swimmers’ eyes red, not chlorine in and of itself. Protect yourself and loved ones by showering before going in the pool and don’t pee in the water,” Wiant said.
Swimmers might be able to check pool inspections online or on-site at the pool facility. Public (non-residential) pools are typically inspected by the health department; backyard pools are not. “Before you go to or get in the water, ask if they have Certified Pool/Spa Operators on staff,” suggested Thomas Lachocki, PhD, CEO of NSPF.
Well-maintained pools are less likely to spread germs. Swimmers can keep healthy before getting in the water by checking the pool’s latest inspection results and by making sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible. Also, use pool test strips to confirm the water’s chlorine or bromine level and pH are correct. The CDC recommends pH of 7.2–7.8, with free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas, and free bromine concentration of at least 3 ppm in pools and at least 4 ppm in hot tubs/spas.
The WQHC is offering free pool test kits through its Healthy Pools awareness initiative, which swimmers can use to measure chlorine levels and pH in backyard or public pools. They are also encouraged to use kits to check hotel, motel and theme park pools while on vacation.
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