How Gross are Public Pools?
Each summer, many of us take refuge from the heat at local public schools. And why shouldn’t we? The kids are out of school. Swimming is a great form of exercise. The beach is too far away. And, hey, it beats work!
But not everything about a trip to the pool is so great; in fact, all too often, public pools are unsanitary, and, well, disgusting.. Click through for all of the dirty details, plus tips on making sure your public pool is safe, and precautions you and your family can take. Be warned, though, that this stuff is not for people with weak stomachs!
Why is pool water so gross? There are all sorts of parasites and bacteria found in pool water — and chlorine can’t kill them that fast, if at all. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that, in 2008, nearly 1 in 8 pool inspections resulted in the immediate closure of the pool due to public health and safety reasons.
Ew! What sorts of bacteria? According to the CDC, 58 percent of pools tested positive for E. coli and 60 percent for pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that can cause ear infections and skin rashes. Less than 2 percent of the pools contained traces of the germs Cryptosporidium, or Crypto, and Giardia, which can cause diarrhea, respiratory, eye, and neurologic infections, among other symptoms. Crypto is notoriously difficult to treat with chlorine, and is the cause of the majority of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) in the United States.
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How did it get there? Oh come on, you know how! These germs are from all of our behinds, children and adults alike — the average person has about .14 grams of fecal matter on them at any given time, including in the pool. People with diarrhea are major culprits.
Will I get sick? Though the statistics on contaminating pools are startling, the CDC study does not look at whether the germs are actually alive, and thus have the ability to infect you. Most of the time, they don’t — there are just a few thousand cases each year. That comes with the caveat, though, that it’s very likely that a significant number of cases probably go unreported.
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What can I do to prevent this? There are a number of steps you can take:
1. Never, ever, ever swim when you have diarrhea.
2. Always, always, always shower (with soap!) before you swim.
3. Take bathroom breaks every hour, and wash your hands with soap.
4. If you’re taking care of a baby in a diaper, check it every 30-60 minutes. Don’t change their diaper near the pool.
5. Accompany young children to the bathroom every hour.
6. Don’t swallow pool water.
What about my kids? If you’re taking care of young children, you can:
1. Wash them off thoroughly with soap and water before getting in the pool.
2. For babies in diapers, check it every 30-60 minutes. Don’t change their diaper near the pool.
3. Accompany them to the bathroom every hour.
4. Teach them not to swallow pool water.
I’m clean, but what about everyone else? What can I do to make sure the water is safe? You can look for visual cues. Safe pools will be virtually odor-free, and the water will be clear enough to see anything painted on the bottom. You can also ask about the pool’s policies and procedures. Ask how often they check the pH and chlorine levels, what kind of training the staff receives, and how the health inspector graded the pool.
But the fail-safe method? Check out the pH and chlorine levels in the pool yourself. You can buy pool-testing strips at most hardware stores.