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Public Pools – Swim At Your Own Risk!

May 21, 2010

Before you decide to go for a dip in a public swimming pool this summer, you should know what you may be diving into.

A new government report shows that one in eight public swimming pools were shut down in 2008 due to dirty water or other issues, such as missing safety equipment.

Kiddy pools were the worst as far as germs go; improper chlorination and fecal matter were the top offenders.

The report is based on more than 120,000 public swimming pool inspections in 2008, which include hotel pools and those at amusement parks. The report, released May 20, is the largest scale study for this topic ever done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pools are to blame for as many as 15 to 20 outbreaks from stomach bugs, according to the CDC. Studies suggest that 25 percent of those outbreaks are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that should have been killed if proper pool treatments and chlorination were used correctly.

Fecal matter is a common factor in many public pools, especially in kiddy pools and fountains where children play. Urine is also a big problem. Urine contains nitrogen that eats up chlorine in pool water, depleting the overall supply. Sweat and suntan lotion have the same effects.

According to a survey of 1,000 Americans done last year for the chemical industry group Water Quality and Health Council, one in five adults admitted they have peed in the pool before.

Reports of illnesses related to pools have been increasing through the last decade, but it isn’t clear if its due to worsening conditions or a lack of awareness, said Michele Hlavsa, chief of the CDC’s swimming pool program.

“We definitely need to focus on improving pool operations,” she told The Associated Press.

Before you go swimming in any public pool, the CDC suggests buying test kits available at most hardware stores and checking the water at public facilities. Health officials also say people who have had dysentery shouldn’t swim, and everyone should avoid swallowing pool water.

The new study is published in a CDC publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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