Guest Column - July/August 2006
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Preventing Recreational Water Illness Outbreaks

Association Guest Column: National Swimming Pool Foundation

By Douglas C. Sackett and Thomas M. Lachocki

Changes to prevent future outbreaks

In response to the NYS-2005 outbreak, the NYS Department of Health accelerated the process to establish new code to include splash play areas since no code was yet finalized for this relatively new type of water feature. The existing "pool" codes did not apply since splash play areas have no "standing water," which is required to be governed by the existing pool code.

The new rules for N.Y. splash play facilities that recycle water require disinfection (chlorine), filtration and an ultraviolet (UV) light disinfection system that delivers energy at least 40 mJ/cm2, which kills all known germs. The code includes specific guidance on filtration to ensure turbidity (water clarity) is maintained at satisfactory levels to not interfere with the UV and the chlorine systems. In addition, existing and new splash play areas will be required to issue a report from a licensed professional engineer that evaluates compliance to the new code prior to opening in 2006. Operator training, design and operation criteria also were implemented. Ozone is being considered as an alternative to UV. However, the ability to contact all the circulation water for a sufficient time remains a challenge. The entire New York state code can be reviewed at

In addition to engineering changes at the facilities, it is also important to implement operational changes and build awareness with consumers. Facility management needs to make sure that restrooms are conveniently located, clean and inviting for use. The general public often does not realize that they contribute to the spread of recreational water illness. Many believe that the water in splash features is drinkable (potable). It is important to educate the public to not swim/splash if they have recently had diarrhea as well as to not swallow water. They must change diapers and clean children in the restroom and practice good hygiene. Fortunately many signs that help convey these messages are available from the CDC at

Preventing outbreaks

Prevention of recreational water illness is far more desirable than dealing with an outbreak and the aftermath. Crypto creates a unique hazard at recreational water facilities since chlorine inactivation is slow and filtration is not particularly effective. As a result, the number of outbreaks is consistently increasing with crypto being the leading cause in recent years. Facility management, operators, designers and owners must thoroughly consider using UV systems as a tool to supplement traditional disinfection and filtration to prevent the spread of illness from crypto. A third leg of protection, like UV, is likely to become the norm in the decade to come, according to CDC. Last but not least, education for staff, management and the swimming public is vital so everyone understands the consequences of emerging germs and emerging defenses to limit their spread.


Douglas C. Sackett is the assistant director of the New York State Department of Health's Bureau of Community Environmental Health and Food Protection. Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., is CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF), a nonprofit organization committed to improving public health by encouraging healthier living through aquatic education and research. As a recreational water educational provider for operators, managers and health officials through the Certified Pool-Spa Operator (CPO) and Certified Pool-Spa Inspector (CPI) training programs, NSPF also funds research and provides advanced training at the World Aquatic Health Conference, slated this year for Sept. 20 to 21, 2006, in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit