Feature Article - October 2011
Find a printable version here

Maintenance Series: Aquatics

What's in the Water?
Prevent Problems With Proper Pool Maintenance

By Dawn Klingensmith

Customers are picky and sometimes persnickety. Generally, their high standards for comfort and cleanliness keep managers of recreational facilities on their toes.

That may be true of fitness facilities, but swimming pools seem to be a different story.

Folks who would never tolerate a dirty shower stall at the gym will happily swim in murky pool water. "People swim in lakes and rivers, and those are cloudy," so they don't necessarily see cloudy water as a possible health risk, said Tom Lachocki, CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Of course, "The expectation should be that you should see the bottom of the pool," he added.

Apparently, that was not an expectation of guests at the now-infamous public swimming pool in Fall River, Mass., where a dead body at the bottom of the deep end went undetected by lifeguards, health inspectors and swimmers for two days in June. Before the grisly discovery, a health inspector's report noted the water was "cloudy"; it was later determined that the pool should not have been open to the public with such poor water quality. In the wake of 36-year-old Marie Joseph's death, ruled an accidental drowning, several state employees were disciplined or fired.

Not only is murky water a sign of imbalanced water chemistry, which poses a health hazard, but "cloudy water also increases the risk of drowning because you can't see someone in distress," Lachocki said.

Even if swimmers don't understand the health risks associated with poorly treated water, it still seems surprising that the opacity of the pool didn't have a sufficient enough "ick" factor to turn patrons away. But apparently, pool users can stomach a lot of "ick."

In his years as a pool professional, Trevor Sherwood has seen it all, including a family who refused to vacate the pool after a baby's diaper ripped open and released its contents into the water. The family patriarch had taken the day off to swim with his kids, so by golly, they were going to swim. Pool management "had to call 911 to get the family out," said Sherwood, owner of Pool Operation Management in Brick, N.J.

"If there's a fecal accident or the water is too cloudy to see the main drain, the pool needs to be shut down immediately," said Sherwood, adding that clients of his company who fail to do so forfeit their contracts.

Since pool operators can't count on patrons or even health inspectors to sound an alarm when maintenance is subpar, the onus is on each operator to have responsible, trained staff and procedures in place to ensure the pool is safe, comfortable and inviting.