Supplement Feature - February 2014
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Follow the Rules

A Regulatory Update

By Rick Dandes

Crafting a 'Model' Code for Future Generations

In the United States, there is no federal regulatory authority responsible for aquatic facilities such as swimming pools and waterparks; all pool codes are developed, reviewed and approved by state and local public health officials.

"As a result, there are no uniform, national standards governing the design, construction, operation and maintenance of swimming pools and other treated aquatic facilities," explained Michael J. Beach, associate director for Healthy Water, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

The continued reporting of recreational water illness outbreaks, chemical injuries and drowning events led Beach, a group of public health, industry and academic experts to meet in 2005 about the issue. That group recommended that CDC spearhead an effort to create a federal model code that state and local health departments could use to update their own codes.

What came out of those meetings was a plan to create a Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC), with a goal of improving health and safety at swimming venues around the country.

The effort to create the MAHC has been data- or best practices-driven and knowledge-based. "Our belief is that this effort will help improve overall design, operation, and maintenance of aquatic facilities leading to improved swimmer health and safety," Beach said.

When state or local health departments voluntarily adopt the MAHC, it will simplify design and construction, improve water and indoor air quality and bather hygiene, and ensure that personnel are trained appropriately, suggested Ron George, aquatics division manager for a manufacturer of UV treatment systems in Wisconsin.

"The document provides managers with operational and safety guidelines to protect the health and safety of their patrons and their staff," George added. "Managing risk and maintaining the healthy operation of the facility are paramount concerns of pool managers. Many states today do not require educated operators. How can they be expected to minimize risk? Patrons use their facility because they believe it is safe for themselves and their families. For private venues, this can mean the difference of whether patrons return to use their facility or not."

Following the recommendations in the MAHC should translate to fewer pools being closed during inspection, fewer disease outbreaks and reduced swimmer and staff injuries. That is good for pool managers, good for public health officials, and good for swimmers.

Fourteen modules, all developed by Beach and his technical committees, have now been posted for 60-day public comment. These modules are currently being revised based on public comment, and the steering committee is simultaneously integrating all modules into a single document. That document will again be posted for public comment in early 2014.

"We will then revise again based on public comment and post the first edition of the MAHC in summer 2014," Beach said. People can get a jump on the public comment period by looking at what has been done during the module revision since CDC has posted eight revised modules on the MAHC website:

Although they are not open for comment until they are integrated into a single document, readers can see what the revised wording looks like. So far, the MAHC overseer group has accepted about 75 percent of public comments.

The beauty of the MAHC, Beach explained excitedly, "is that we have intended, since inception, that it will be revised and renewed on a regular basis. We are in the process of setting up a standalone organization for the purpose of managing the MAHC: CDC will still be heavily involved in the science-based aspects of the MAHC."

Interested parties will be allowed to submit requests to change the MAHC along with supporting data. A process will be in place to vote on whether the data supports making the change. This should keep the code up to date with the latest aquatics trends, technology and new products, and save resources that state and local health departments expend on revising individual codes. "This effort," Beach said, "should lead to less illness and injury and an improved swimming experience for the public."