Guest Column - October 2009
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Pools & Aquatics

Cracking the Code to Safety
Prevent Pool Shutdowns and Keep Patrons Safe

By Dave Purkiss


ttention pool owners and operators—92 percent of environmental health professionals or their colleagues have shut down a recreational water facility in the past three years. Many of you may be shocked at how high that number is. I know I was. This was just one of many eye-opening results gleaned from a recent survey of more than 60 environmental health professionals who inspect recreational water facilities throughout the United States. The survey was conducted by NSF International and PPG Industries' Accu-Tab chlorination business, and it asked participants questions about their roles as environmental health professionals, inspection procedures and the types of health- and safety-related issues they often encounter.

The survey's findings demonstrate the importance of having regular inspections of recreational water facilities, as well as the need for pool owners and operators to take responsibility in between visits to ensure proper code adherence. When pool owners and operators work together with environmental health professionals, pool shutdowns can be prevented and patrons can be guaranteed a safe and happy experience.

Swimming: A Favorite Summer Activity

With warm weather and sunshine comes one of the nation's most popular recreational activities—swimming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year, more than 360 million visits are recorded for recreational water venues, making swimming the second most popular recreational activity in the United States—and the most popular activity for children.

While patrons are enthusiastic about their love for outdoor water fun, they do have some safety concerns, including personal safety such as falling or drowning and health concerns like recreational water illnesses. Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are illnesses that are spread by swallowing, breathing or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools and other water. Recreational water illnesses can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. According to the CDC, in the past two decades, the number of RWI outbreaks associated with swimming has increased. However, RWIs and other recreational water safety issues can be prevented with regular inspections, which are a vital component to keeping facilities safe and healthy for users.

Water Quality Key to Keeping Facilities Safe

Because recreational water illnesses are a top concern for patrons, environmental health professionals are placing a strong emphasis on testing water quality during inspections. In fact, of those 92 percent of inspectors who have shut down a recreational water facility in the past year, the vast majority (85 percent) cited poor water quality/clarity as the reason for the shutdown. Most violations were chemical-related. Ultimately, water quality is integral to the recreational water experience, and patron safety can be compromised if water quality is poor.

To help prevent water-quality-related pool shutdowns, pool operators should keep the chemical feed equipment and chemicals at optimal levels within state and local government regulations. Problems are often presented when chlorine and pH levels are too high or too low, since poor pH control can compromise chlorine's effectiveness as a disinfectant. Maintaining recommended chlorine levels will prevent most bacterial outbreaks such as E. coli, which can be a cause of recreational water illnesses.

Health and safety issues are often encountered when operators do not adhere to guidelines established for equipment operation and/or chemical specifications. For example, this is especially the case with erosion-type calcium hypochlorite feeders. Manufacturers formulate calcium hypochlorite tablets to dissolve at a specific rate based on the chemical formulation, tablet configuration and size. Feeding equipment is then designed to deliver an accurate and precise chlorine level for a specific type of tablet. Changing the chemical formulation, size or shape of the tablet will alter the chlorination rate. Under- or over-chlorination incidents can be avoided by always using the chemicals recommended by the feeder manufacturer.