Nearly 8o percent of public pools inspected by health officials were in violation of at least one federal health and safety rule, and more than 12 percent of the inspections found problems so severe that the pools were closed immediately, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.
The CDC numbers were based on nearly 84,200 routine inspections of 48,632 public pools, water parks, and other aquatic venues in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas, where nearly half of the nation’s 309,000 public swimming facilities are located.
Some of the most common violations involved problems with the pool’s pH level, problems with safety equipment, and problems with the concentrations of disinfectants in the water. These problems expose swimmers to bacteria from fecal matter, cryptosporidium and other parasites, and volatile chemicals that can irritate the respiratory tract and eyes.
The CDC started the Network for Aquatic Inspection and Surveillance in 2013 to address ongoing problems with public swimming pool safety. The program was in many ways a product of 650 outbreaks reported over the previous 35 years.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the largest of these outbreaks occurred in an indoor water park in Ohio in 2007, when pool chlorine combined with urine and sweat in the water to form chloramines – chemical compounds that can cause severe eye and respiratory tract problems. Local health authorities recorded 665 guests and workers were harmed in that outbreak.
According to the CDC’s findings, the most unsafe swimming venues tested were kiddie pools. Health inspectors immediately closed one in five kiddie/wading pools tested because of the health risks they posed.
Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said that local health departments need to do more to regulate, inspect, and license public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds. Likewise, patrons of public swimming venues should check inspection results online or on site before taking a plunge.
The agency also encourages swimmers to stock up on tests strips available at pool supply and hardware stores and carry these with them to public swimming areas. The strips quickly and easily measure the pH and disinfectant levels in the water.
A healthy pool has a pH between 7.2 and 7.8. The concentration of chlorine should be at least 1 part per million in regular pool water and at least 3 ppm in a hot tub. For bromine, the concentration in pool water should be at least 3 ppm, and at least 4 ppm in a hot tub.