July 22, 2008

Tempe Continues Splash Park Cleanup

By Mike Branom, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

Jul. 22--The two young boys carried towels as they walked behind their father at Tempe Beach Park. Monday afternoon was warm and muggy -- conditions just right for a cooling soak.

As Dad neared Splash Playground, he couldn't help but notice the near-total lack of activity, despite water flowing from fountains, spouts and spigots, and the fence around the facility.

"Closed?" Mark Clark shouted to two city officials standing near a white city pickup.


As Tempe continued to clean its splash park of cryptosporidium, a potentially health-threatening bacterium that may have sickened dozens in Phoenix, other East Valley cities reported their aquatic facilities are clean.

Tempe officials said they have heard no reports of illnesses stemming from the water at the splash park.

After news broke last week about an outbreak at Phoenix's pools, cities around the Valley immediately began testing their facilities.

Tempe learned of its tainted water on Friday afternoon, and within 15 minutes, parks and recreation director Mark Richwine said, the facility was closed.

The next day, workers spent hours attacking the park with brushes and a sanitizing solution. It isn't expected to reopen until Wednesday at the earliest.

"I just saw (the Phoenix closures) on the news last night," said Clark, with 5-year-old Skyler and 3-year-old Tanner at his side. "It didn't even dawn on me it could happen here."

In Phoenix, as many as 60 people may have been sickened with the parasite, although there have been only two confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis. The city closed 29 pools, reopening 26 by Monday with the remaining three expected to welcome back swimmers today.

Cryptosporidium attacks the intestines, causing an infection that can result in symptoms of diarrhea, stomach pains or cramps, and a low fever.

Fecal matter carries the bacteria, but Richwine said there's no telling who or what is responsible.

"It's so hard to say," Richwine said. "It could be a bird, it could be a dog, it could be a rabbit. It could come from any animal that is in the environment here."

All three animals Richwine named are present in large numbers at Tempe Beach Park, a popular recreation area on 25 acres tucked between the Salt River, Rio Salado Parkway and the Mill Avenue bridges.

But the carrier may have been one of the hundreds of young visitors who come to the splash park, Richwine added.

"It's a very popular attraction for small children, and many of them do have diapers when they come here," Richwine said. "If something happens to leak out of a diaper, it potentially introduces it into the water system."

Coincidentally, the positive test at the park came days before the debut of a new water sanitizer that uses ultraviolet light.

"We're pretty confident the UV should take care of it, combined with the bromine and the chlorine that we already have in the system," Richwine said.

The park will reopen only after a California laboratory gives a clean bill of health to a water sample that will be taken this morning.

Meanwhile, officials in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Scottsdale were reassuring the public their pools and splash parks were safe.

Gilbert spokesman Garin Groff said Mesquite Pool, the busiest of the town's five pools, would be tested for cryptosporidium today. The water's chemical content is monitored continuously and tested up to three times a day, but officials approved a $600 crypto-specific test.

"There's no reason to believe there's any problem, but the town wanted to be cautious," Groff said.

Mesa recreation supervisor Darla Armfield said there was some early confusion among residents after Phoenix's pools were shut, and the city received some calls checking to see whether its 10 pools were open.

Chandler also received calls, city spokesman Craig Younger said.

In Scottsdale, city officials said its four pools are completely filtered every four hours, twice the recommended filtration rate.

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