During the 2010 Healthy Pools Campaign, more than 43,000 pool test kits were distributed to people who requested them from the Water Quality & Health Council Healthy Pools website. Over the course of the summer, 747 participants from across the nation monitored and uploaded their pool chemistry data – pH and chlorine levels – to an online interactive map. The Council, in partnership with the CDC, sponsored the summer campaign to raise awareness of the importance of proper pool chemistry. Chlorine and pH are general indicators of the overall “health” of a pool, and according to the CDC, represent “the front line of defense against germs that can make swimmers sick.”
Why did we run this campaign? In May of 2010, the CDC issued a statement about pool inspections conducted in 13 states in 2008 that found one in eight public pools was closed immediately due to serious code violations, including inadequate pool chemistry. “Improper disinfectant and pH levels in the water can result in transmission of germs, such as Shigella and norovirus, which cause gastroenteritis.” This report caught our attention, and we decided to enlist interested swimmers to conduct their own “unofficial” inspections. With their help, we wanted to help supply people with the tools they need to ensure they are swimming in a healthy pool. Swimmers were encouraged to approach pool staff with evidence of inappropriate pool water chemistry. If that proved unproductive, swimmers were advised to contact local health departments.
The results are concerning: More than 40 percent of swimming pools tested by swimmers had either unacceptable levels of chlorine or unacceptable pH readings. The CDC’s 2008 report showed more than 10 percent of pools exhibited improper pool chemistry. It is difficult to compare these two studies directly, as the CDC data are limited to 13 states and the public survey lacks the rigors of scientific data collection. Additionally, many of the pools tested in the Healthy Pools Campaign were backyard pools (60 percent), followed by the community adult pool (31 percent), hotel pools (5 percent) and community children’s pools (4 percent). The CDC report did not include backyard pools. Nevertheless, both studies suggest the need for greater attention to managing water quality properly in swimming pools.
The connection between poor water quality in pools and illness in swimmers is well documented and definitive. Yet every study has shown that there are still a substantial number of pools where two key indicators of safety, chlorine levels and pH, are not properly maintained. Educating pool operators and the general public along with promoting water quality testing in pools are two methods the Council believes will result in safer pools and fewer illnesses.
The Council looks forward to running the campaign again in 2011, which happens to be the International Year of Chemistry. What better time to work on getting pool chemistry right?
(Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)