Every year, serious health and safety violations force thousands of public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds to close, so counseling patients about how to avoid risks associated with these violations can help prevent illnesses, according to a report published in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report this week.  

Inspection data collected in 2013 in the five states with the most public pools and hot tubs: Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas revealed that almost 80% of public aquatic venues had at least one violation, and these violations often resulted in closure of these venues. CDC researchers reviewed data on 84,187 routine inspections of 48,632 public aquatic venues, including pools, hot tubs, water playgrounds and other places where people swim in treated water. The most common violations reported were related to improper pH (15%), safety equipment (13%), and disinfectant concentration (12%).

“No one should get sick or hurt when visiting a public pool, hot tub, or water playground,” Beth Bell, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases said in a prepared statement about the study. “That’s why public health and aquatics professionals work together to improve the operation and maintenance of these public places so people will be healthy and safe when they swim.”


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The report is especially timely, as Healthy and Safe Swimming Week begins on May 23, 2016. This week typically is heralded in the United States as the kickoff to the summer season, as it coincides with Memorial Day weekend. CDC officials encourage physicians share some tips with swimmers to help protect themselves from getting sick or hurt at pools or hot tubs.

When visiting public or private pools, swimmers and parents of young swimmers can complete their own inspection using a short and easy checklist that will identify some of the most common health and safety problems:

  • Use a test strip (available at most superstores or pool-supply stores) to determine if the pH and free chlorine or bromine concentration are correct. CDC recommends:Free chlorine concentration of at least 1 ppm in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas, or 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 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 that drain covers appear to be 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 venues. If not, check whether safety equipment like a rescue ring with rope or pole is available.

If swimmers note problems, they should not get in the water and alert people in charge to address the issues. 

Reference

1. Hlvasa MC, Gerth TR, Collier SA, et al.  Immediate Closures and Violations Identified During Routine Inspections of Public Aquatic Facilities — Network for Aquatic Facility Inspection Surveillance, Five States, 2013. MMWR. 2016; 65(5);1–26.