Is your public pool a health risk? How to find out

May 20, 2016 Providence Health Team

On hot, lazy summer days, many families seek relief and fun at their local public pool. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that before you dive in, make sure the water is safe for swimming. Serious health and safety violations force the closure of thousands of public pools every year, according to the CDC.

“No one should get sick or hurt when visiting a public pool, hot tub or water playground,” said Beth Bell, M.D., director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

A new report by the CDC gives an idea of how widespread pool safety and health problems are, and ways to protect you and your family.

Thousands of inspections every year

The CDC examined data collected in 2013 from the five states with the most public pools and hot tubs:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Texas

In reviewing the data, the researchers took into account 84,187 routine inspections of 48,632 public places where people swim in treated water.

Kiddie pools the biggest problem

Some of the findings:

  • Most inspections – nearly 80 percent – found at least one violation.
  • One in 8 inspections resulted in immediate closure because of serious health and safety violations.
  • One in 5 kiddie/wading pools were closed – the highest proportion of closures among all inspected venues.
  • The most common violations were related to:
    • Improper pH, 15 percent of the time
    • Safety equipment, 13 percent of the time
    • Disinfectant concentrations, 12 percent of the time

"Environmental health practitioners, or public health inspectors, play a very important role in protecting public health. However, almost one-third of local health departments do not regulate, inspect or license public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds,” said Michele Hlavsa, RN, MPH, and chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program.

She said swimmers should check online for inspection results and do their own inspections before getting into the water.

You can read more about the report here.

How to test your local pool

How do you conduct your own inspection? Use the following checklist to help identify some of the most common health and safety problems at pools:

  • Use a test strip (found at most larger retail or pool-supply stores) to determine if the pH and free chlorine or bromine concentrations are correct. The CDC makes these recommendations:
    • Free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas
    • Free bromine concentration of at least 3 ppm in pools and at least 4 ppm in hot tubs/spas
    • pH of 7.2 - 7.8
    • Make sure the pool drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible. Clear water allows lifeguards and other swimmers to see swimmers underwater who might need help.
    • Check drain covers to make sure they are secured and in good repair. Swimmers can get trapped underwater by a loose or broken drain cover.
    • Confirm that a lifeguard is on duty at public pools. If not, check whether safety equipment such as a rescue ring with a rope or a pole is available.

If you find problems, do not get into the water. Tell the person in charge so the problems can be fixed.

The CDC has more healthy and safety swimming tips. Your health care provider also can answer questions about the importance of clean water. You can find a Providence provider here.

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