Supplement Feature - February 2008
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A Perfect Storm

Are Water and Air Quality on Your Radar Screen Yet?

By Joseph Ryan



An Ounce of Prevention=A Dose of Education

One of the simplest actions aquatic facility mangers can take to ensure patron safety is to make sure the staff knows what they are doing when handling dangerous pool chemicals.

Currently 30 states do not require certification of pool operators, leaving a wide swath of aquatic facilities across the nation that could legally allow uneducated employees to roll the dice with patron safety. But it is entirely possible that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) may soon come out with model regulations for states that include mandatory training for pool operators. Growing public outrage over crypto outbreaks and poor air quality are expected to spur lawmakers to adopt such strict regulations at an increasing rate.

Responsible pool managers, experts say, should consider hiring trained staff regardless of the current laws, because in the end it may cost them customers. It is also simply the right thing to do.

"(Education) is really going to affect their ability to manage the pool properly," said Bryan Buss, a lieutenant commander for the U.S. Public Health Service based in Nebraska.

Following an outbreak last year of respiratory ailments with guests at an indoor hotel pool—which actually sent a 6-year-old child to the hospital with a swollen throat—Buss conducted a statewide study of pool operators and training. He had found that hotel staff in the incident were not properly trained to operate the pool and therefore closed off ventilation while allowing inadequate chlorine levels.

In his study of pool inspection violation records across the state, Buss found that aquatic facilities without trained staff had about twice as many pH and chlorine-level violations as those facilities with trained staff.

Buss' research is being touted in several states as a reason to require broad training standards for pool operators, especially at hotels and other low-key aquatic facilities that might not want to spend the extra money.

"If (pool owners) aren't required to do it, I don't think they are compelled to do it, because unless a patron complains, they can stay off the radar screen," Buss said.

While course requirements vary across the 20 states that do require pool operator certification, there are standard national courses offered by such organizations as the National Swimming Pool Foundation and the National Recreation and Park Association. Several national training courses are listed at www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/courses.htm.