Nation's swimming pools are gross, and dangerous 

click to enlarge Parents are urged to use test strips to check water quality at public pools and water parks.  - VIRGINIA CARTER
  • Parents are urged to use test strips to check water quality at public pools and water parks.
  • Virginia Carter
By Veronica Carter

Healthy and Safe Swimming Week begins Monday, and in a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nationwide testing shows most public swimming areas had at least one violation, and one in eight had to be closed immediately.

Dr. Michael Beach, the agency's associate director for healthy water, said it doesn't mean never to go to a public pool or water park, but it does mean people should be proactive by checking to see if the water's OK. He said one simple way to do that is by buying test strips.

"You're essentially taking a strip and dipping it in the water and reading a color," he said. "Make sure the drain at the bottom of the deep end of the pool is visible. This means the water is clear enough for lifeguards and others to see swimmers underwater who may need help. If you can't see the main drain, the pool shouldn't be open."

The CDC looked at data on tests done on 85,000 public swimming areas with water that has been treated. Beach said human feces accounts for about three quarters of all outbreaks of illness from public pools. The parasite behind it, cryptosporidium, is pretty resistant to chlorine, Beach said, adding that filters and disinfectants aren't enough. He said that means state and local health departments may have to come up with tougher regulations to protect swimmers.

"This will take time and commitment from all parties," he said, "but I think we're moving forward on that as health departments start to think about taking some of this guidance and putting it into their own regulations."

The problem could be worse than reported. Beach said less than 70 percent of U.S. local public health agencies regulate, inspect or license public aquatic facilities.

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