Feature Article - January 2012
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All Together Now

New Code Aims at Standards for Nation's Pools

By Wynn St. Clair


The aquatic industry and public-health agencies have a shared responsibility to ensure that facilities provide consumers with safe and healthy recreational water experiences and do not become vehicles for transmission of communicable disease or outbreaks.

According to draft documents, the goal of the initiative is to develop a Model Aquatic Health Code that is "user-friendly, knowledge-based, and scientifically supported in an effort to reduce risk and promote healthy recreational water experiences." The objective is to transform the varied swimming pool regulations used by health departments into a uniform model national code to ensure the health and safety of the swimming public.

With more than 368 million annual visits to swimming pools, beaches and lakes in the United States, the stakes are high. The aquatic industry and public-health agencies have a shared responsibility to ensure that facilities provide consumers with safe and healthy recreational water experiences and do not become vehicles for transmission of communicable disease or outbreaks. A national standard can go a long way to achieving this goal, experts say.

"The aquatic industry, governments and the public all benefit from the MAHC," said Thomas Lachocki, CEO of the NSPF, a nonprofit organization that offers safety and educational training for pool operators. "As more states and counties adopt, there is more consistency in rules, making product development and introduction more efficient. It is always better if the industry knows the rules and the rules are consistent. Government benefits because every jurisdiction will not have to invest so much time trying to develop codes that are likely to comply with the highest scientific standards. People benefit because 72 jurisdictions are not wasting precious tax dollars paying for departments to do the same thing another department is doing across the river or across the country. Then those tax dollars can be used for more valuable services."

The new effort was born after a February 2005 workshop sponsored by the CDC, titled "Recreational Water Illness Prevention at Disinfected Swimming Venues." The seminar drew experts from various disciplines at the local, state and federal level, as well as industry experts, to discuss ways to minimize RWIs.

The workshop evolved into a new health code initiative, prompting the CDC to develop a set of modules on specific topics. As they create the module they send it periodically to the steering committee to ensure that the content and format integrates with the work being done by other committees and addresses the overall MAHC goals. This process, by its very nature, involves many drafts of the modules before completion. Once the technical committee finishes the module and the steering committee approves the product, it is passed to the MAHC editor. The module is then moved into final formatting. Additional annex information may be added by staff if further clarification is needed on the intent or direction. Following completion of this process, the module is put through internal CDC clearance.

Upon CDC clearance, the initiative also calls for multiple opportunities for review and comment by the public and other stakeholders. Under the initiative, each module is developed by the appropriate technical committee, approved by the steering committee and posted for public comment for 60 days. The steering committee and appropriate technical committee then review the input and revise the modules accordingly. Once all the modules have been revised after their respective 60-day reviews, the entire MAHC will be posted for another 60-day public comment period to allow the public to review the new code in its entirety and check it for thoroughness.

Even after the new code is finalized and released, the CDC anticipates that it will be updated on a periodic and systematic basis to reflect additional best practices and the latest science.

Even after the new code is finalized and released, the CDC anticipates that it will be updated on a periodic and systematic basis to reflect additional best practices and the latest science. The current plans call for a new edition of the MAHC every two years, with supplements issued when needed.

Lachocki said there has been great optimism about the new health code throughout the aquatic industry. He understands that some government agencies may initially resist the science-based codes because it represents a change in the way things have been done in the past. The issue could be resolved if and when public health agencies stopped thinking about how "we" do things locally and embraced the idea of how "we" should do things as a country. One of the best ways to do this, he said, is to become involved with the new code's development.