Feature Article - January 2012
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All Together Now

New Code Aims at Standards for Nation's Pools

By Wynn St. Clair

When it comes to commercial swimming pools and waterparks, aquatic managers are not all on the same page. And they really never have been.

In the United States, there is no federal regulatory authority responsible for disinfected aquatic facilities. All pool codes are handled at the state and local level, meaning there are no unified standards governing design, construction, operation and maintenance of treated aquatic facilities. What's permissible in Pittsburgh may not play in Peoria. Policies followed in Frisco, Texas, may not be required in Frankfurt, Ky.

While there are benefits to localized power and autonomy, the disparate codes and standards long have been a source of concern for industry advocates and the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first industry standard was issued in 1958 and in the subsequent 53 years, no two states have had the same code. Many counties have created their own standards because the state codes were perceived as inadequate. As a result, there is extraordinary variability, experts say. Without uniformity, for example, the code requirements for preventing and responding to recreation water illnesses can vary significantly from state to state—and sometimes even city to city.

Even when national laws like the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool & Spa Safety Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act were enacted, state and county agencies were left to evaluate the codes on their own. Having so many codes places an exceptional financial burden on industry and government, experts said. A lack of uniformity also fails to ensure that aquatic managers and public health officials are getting the most up-to-date information about industry data and new scientific studies.

To address the issue, the CDC, the National Swimming Pool Foundation and dozens of volunteers have been working on a Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), which is intended "to transform the typical health department pool program into a data-driven, knowledge-based, risk reduction effort to prevent disease and injuries and promote healthy recreational water experiences." The MAHC should ensure that the best available standards and practices for protecting public health are available for adoption by state and local agencies, proponents say. It also will provide local and state agencies with uniform guidelines for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of swimming pools and other disinfected aquatic facilities.

"A national code would provide consistency and the ability to update when new science and technology comes out," sais Tracynda Davis, the director of environmental health programs for the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF). "Consistent standards help uniform data collection, which is necessary for illness and injury investigation and treatment. The MAHC uses evidence-based data to understand waterborne illness and appropriate treatment for prevention and remediation."

The CDC, through an initial grant from the National Swimming Pool Foundation, has been working with public health and industry representatives across the United States to build this effort. Initial work has been focused on reducing the spread of recreational water illnesses and injuries at disinfected aquatic facilities.