During a summer heatwave, there’s nothing more refreshing than diving into the water to cool off. Some people are fortunate enough to live near oceans, or fresh, clean rivers and lakes. Many of us, however, simply do not have this option, and turn to public pools for our swimming enjoyment.
However, while we may feel that these places are safe as long as we keep an eye on the kids and don’t run by the pool, there may be more dangers in the water than we think.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a troubling report after an inspection of nearly 50,000 public aquatic venues, including public pools, hot tubs, and water parks across five states was performed by the Network for Aquatic Facility Inspection Surveillance (NAFIS). The five states surveyed were Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas. These states were chosen because they are home to the “highest estimated counts of public aquatic venues” in the United States, according to the CDC.
The CDC’s report found, alarmingly, that 80 percent of the venues surveyed had at least one violation of safety. One out of every eight violations was serious enough to force immediate closure of the venue. Perhaps even more frightening is that one out of five children’s play pools inspected was immediately closed down due to a significant violation.
Three violations stood out as the most common. Fifteen percent of the violations had to do with an improper pH of pool water. Thirteen percent of the venues had “improper” safety equipment, and twelve percent had an “unsuitable disinfectant concentration.”
This is significant, because if the pH of pool water isn’t properly balanced, or if disinfectant levels are not added correctly, swimmers can experience burning eyes and skin. Low pH can even corrode metal fixtures in the pool itself. High pH can lead to cloudy pool water, making it more difficult for a lifeguard (or parent) to spot someone in danger.
Improper safety equipment is obviously a huge problem, because if someone is drowning and safety equipment is unavailable, or exists but is unsuitable for the job, someone could lose their life.
Two other hazards that the CDC warns about are loose pool drains, and insufficient lifeguard supervision. The CDC explains that if a drain cover is loose, swimmers can be pulled underwater and drown. As far as lifeguards and safety equipment, always check to see if a lifeguard is on duty, and make sure that they are diligently watching the pool.
If you are visiting a pool where no lifeguards are on duty, make extra-certain that you are on duty, and have access to safety equipment should you need it.
According to Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program:
“We should all check for inspection results online or on-site before using public pools, hot tubs, or water playgrounds and do our own inspection before getting into the water.”
Along with checking online, make sure the water is clear when you get to the pool. To go the extra mile for safety, the CDC mentions that you can bring a test strip to the pool to test the pH yourself. One can be purchased at a pool supply store, or at a superstore that carries them. The proper pH of a pool should be between 7.2 and 7.8.
As a side note, even if a pool is safe, all of that chlorine isn’t good for you, especially if you swim in it often. There are alternatives in some areas, such as pools treated with ozone or ionizers. If this isn’t an option in your area, be sure to shower before and after you swim, and wear swim goggles to protect your eyes if you’re diving underwater.
This summer, have fun in the water, but remember to stay safe! If a facility has sketchy online reviews, or just doesn’t look right when you arrive, go somewhere else!