There are few things more refreshing on a hot summer day than taking a dip in a swimming pool. And for those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have our own, many towns and municipalities run public pools that are open to all residents. With their water slides, sprinklers, and baby pools, some public pools make visitors feel like they’ve stepped into a tropical resort for the day.
But when it comes to public pools, there is sometimes more than what meets the eye. The bright summer oasis you love to visit with your family could be harboring a disgusting secret: contaminated water.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released an advisory recently concerning the germs in public pools, water parks, lakes, and everywhere else people congregate to swim. There has been an increase in the number of recreational water illnesses (RWIs) caused by these germs. While most germs are killed by the chlorine in pools, a 2010 study found that one in eight public pools were closed immediately after inspections found violations in cleanliness, including improper chlorine levels. RWIs cause symptoms like gastrointestinal issues (like diarrhea), and infections of the skin, eyes, ears, respiratory system, neurological system, and any wounds.
However, chlorine does not always do the trick against the germs that causes these illnesses. Many germs are not killed by chlorine right away, even the proper amount. One in particular, cryptosporidium, can stay alive for days, even in pools that are well maintained, making it the leading cause of RWIs.
To help cut down on the number of germs in public pools, the CDC recommends taking the following steps:
- Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
- Shower with soap before you start swimming.
- Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
- Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes.
- Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.
To cut down your chance of getting sickened by these germs, try the following:
- Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water. Pools: Proper free chlorine level (1–3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]) and pH (7.2–7.8) maximize germ-killing power. Hot tubs/spas: Proper disinfectant level (chlorine [2–4 parts per million or ppm] or bromine [4–6 ppm] and pH [7.2–7.8]) maximize germ-killing power. Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell pool test strips.
- Don’t swallow the water you swim in.
Have you ever been sickened by swimming in a public pool? Tell us about it below.