Feature Article - January 2015
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Safer Waters for All

MAHC Created to Improve Pool Safety

By Deborah L. Vence

Public pool facilities and spas in the United States now have a new resource to turn to if they want to improve their existing pool codes.

The Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC)—the first edition of which was released Aug. 29, 2014—is a guidance document that jurisdictions can use to update or implement codes, rules, regulations, guidance, laws or standards governing swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and other public, treated, recreational water venues to reduce infectious disease outbreaks, drowning and chemical injuries.

"In a perfect world, the whole goal is to have consistency across the country with the most up-to-date science and data and supporting requirements. Ultimately, the goal is [for the MAHC] to be in effect across the country, states, counties and cities. That would be the ideal outcome of this," said Doug Sackett, executive director of the Conference for the Model Aquatic Health Code (CMAHC), which was created in 2013 to serve as a national clearinghouse for input and advice on needed improvements to the MAHC.

Currently, no federal agency regulates the design, construction, operation and maintenance of public swimming pools and other public, treated, recreational water venues. All pool codes are written and enforced independently by state and local agencies. In 2005, though, local, state and federal public health officials and representatives of the aquatic sector requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) develop a model, evidence-based code.

Currently, no federal agency regulates the design, construction, operation and maintenance of public swimming pools and other public, treated, recreational water venues.

"One of the first things is that it's not a factor enforced until a local jurisdiction adopts it. Until a health department adopts it, it's not enforceable," Sackett explained. "We also recognize that local issues [might arise], and some jurisdictions may adopt portions of it. Operationally, they might have some nuances. And, some might not adopt any of it."

Furthermore, although the MAHC is deemed a code, it still is not "technically a code itself," but rather a "model or proposed code," noted Richard K. Cacioppo, Sr., J.D., a trial and appellate constitutional lawyer, and president and CEO for the Institute for Advanced Marketing for the pool industry.

"The CDC has no power or authority to enforce a single provision, and is not permitted by law to lobby for its passage. It does recommend that all public pools be regulated in a far stricter manner," he said. "[The MAHC] only replaces what each individual state and local health code currently has in place, some provisions in full and others in only a small way. No present code will be affected unless and until the regulatory agency that enacts local and state laws adopts any portion of it. Nothing changes until then."

Waterborne Illnesses

Increasing outbreaks of Cryptosporidium, a recreational water illness that has been on the rise in recent years and prompted discussion for the MAHC in 2005, should be a big enough reason for local health departments to consider adopting the code, or at least parts of it.

Crypto is a chlorine-tolerant parasite and can survive for days in a well-chlorinated pool. The MAHC suggests facilities use additional secondary disinfection safeguards, such as ultraviolet light or ozone, which kills crypto, particularly for increased-risk aquatic venues, such as children's wading pools and splashpads.

"The increase in waterborne illness along with increased injuries and drowning events at public aquatic facilities led to the need for improved and unified public health programs. The main intent was to address some very specific risk and new threats that may not have been pertinent at the time that many local codes were written," said Terry Arko, recreation water specialist for a clean water technology company based in Bothell, Wash., and a certified pool operator (CPO) and a CPO course instructor through the National Swimming Pool Foundation (NSPF).

"It was pretty much the increase of outbreaks at recreation water facilities [that led to its creation]," Sackett said. "The code basically has three sections, [including a] design section. It has all of the design, filter, secondary disinfectant [information] … how you operate it, what are the chlorine levels, what staffing do you need. There is a move toward a requirement in the code for secondary disinfection for those higher-risk venues. That's another important thing to know. How does this impact me?" Sackett said.

Moreover, design criteria are written in the MAHC that inform facilities how to handle remediation. If, for example, a facility does not have UV to eradicate crypto, there is a design criterion written in the code that explains how to fit it in.

The MAHC stresses the importance of UV by stating that "the rate of chlorine loss (pounds of chlorine per hour) due to UV degradation will depend on a number of factors, including the size of the aquatic venue, the depth of the water and the intensity of the sunshine. It will also depend on the concentration of cyanuric acid present, since cyanuric acid can help prevent the decomposition of chlorine by UV …."