Supplement Feature - February 2008
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A Perfect Storm

Are Water and Air Quality on Your Radar Screen Yet?

By Joseph Ryan

It's in the water: Thousands of swimmers in western states came down with severe nausea and diarrhea last summer in headline-grabbing crypto outbreaks that forced one state to ban all toddlers from pools for a month.

It's in the air: Nearly 200 swimmers at a large aquatic theme park in Ohio complained to health officials last year of flu-like symptoms, coughing and wheezing, prompting federal and local authorities to swoop in with a battery of air tests.

And now it's on your customers' minds:

"This is all going to lead to more attention on these issues in the public and end up costing pools that aren't up to standards," said Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF).

Industry experts largely agree that pool operators and managers across the nation should be bracing for a rapid increase in scrutiny on air and water quality issues in the coming years. To stay ahead of the curve, experts say now may prove to be the right time to start reviewing your filtration methods, disinfection policies, staff training and customer education methods.

A perfect storm of increased maladies, mounting research and growing attention appears to be brewing around the aquatic recreation industry.

For one, officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) are looking at two years of dramatic increases in recreational water illness (RWI) outbreaks. More, and potentially larger, spikes are expected to follow.

On another front, federal and state attention on air quality issues at indoor aquatic facilities is growing. Plus, several new standards are set to come out for aquatic facility managers and operators to adhere to no matter the added cost.

All of this promises to bring attention to the issue from the press, as well as the public.

"To keep membership and to keep people coming back to their pools, (operators and managers) are going to have to address these issues. There is going to be a new public sensitivity to it," said Keith Coursin, president of a Milwaukee-based dehumidifier company and chair of a research panel analyzing pool ventilation standards for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

"It is no longer going to be that you know you have a problem and can just keep quiet and think no one else is going to know," Coursin said.