Testing the waters

>©iStockPhoto.com/gchutkaIn Texas, swimming pools are synonymous with summer. Chances are, trips to the community or country club pool, or even days at a local water park are on your family’s hot weather “to-do” list.

As temperatures begin to soar, the clear-looking water becomes more and more alluring. But wait. What exactly is in the water? When you find out you may not want to let your kids jump into your local swimming hole just yet.

For one thing, parents should watch out for the disinfection levels in their community pools, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, the CDC suggests that parents buy their own test kits from hardware stores and bring them to their local pools to test the water first. The CDC also suggests six steps to healthy swimming and protection against water-borne illnesses.

Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, the head of the infectious disease program at Children’s Medical Center, says lack of pool cleanliness can lead to the potential for water-borne illnesses, such as gastroenteritis, Shigella and norovirus. “Inadequately treated water in swimming pools can be a source of bacteria that can cause serious disease in children and adults. For example, cryptosporidium (“crypto”) is a parasite that causes severe diarrheal disease that can be spread by the swallowing of contaminated recreational water. The finding that a significant percentage of swimming pools failed safety inspections is a major public health problem. Proper water treatment and following the ‘Six Steps for Healthy Swimming’ as outlined by the CDC can make swimming a safe and pleasurable activity.”

The pool cleanliness study by the federal agency looked at 2008 data from more than 121,000 routine pool inspections and found that about 12 percent (more than one in eight) led to immediate closure because of serious violations such as lack of disinfectant in the water or lack of safety equipment. The causes of the low disinfectant levels were often fecal matter, urine, sweat and dirt from children as well as the shallowness of the water. The CDC says disinfectant and pH levels should be measured more often and adjusted more frequently in these types of pools, especially when there are a lot of children swimming.

The highest percentage of immediate closures were for interactive fountain-type/splash pools while kiddie/wading pools had the highest percentage of disinfectant-level violations followed by fountain/splash pools.

The analysis of public swimming pools (including park, hotel and apartment/condominium pools) is the largest conducted to date of pool cleanliness. The CDC conducted a similar analysis in 2002. Neither is representative of all pools in the U.S., CDC says, but the data “suggest the need for increased public health scrutiny and improved pool operation.”

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