Healthy Pools For Healthy Swimmers
Spring is here, and rising temperatures mean pool time will soon be upon us. Public and private pool owners are beginning to prepare their pools for the season ahead, and many families will spend a good bit of time at the pool for a refreshing escape from the hot summer sun.
For the past 13 years, the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Chlorine Chemistry Division has worked closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and more recently with the National Swimming Pool Foundation, on an educational outreach program to ensure healthy pools for healthy swimmers. The program highlights health and safety issues regarding swimming pools and encourages swimmers to practice good swimming pool etiquette and hygiene.
The Healthy Pools campaign was borne out of a survey conducted by ACC’s Chlorine Chemistry Division that revealed one in five American adults admits to having urinated in the pool. It also showed that eight in 10 Americans believe their fellow swimmers participate in unhygienic behavior, including urinating in the pool and foregoing a pre-swim shower. The results of that survey gave them the idea of educating swimmers about what they can do to contribute to healthy pools.
“We wanted to take a closer look at disease transmission and how that plays an important role in pool health,” said Dr. Chris Wiant, Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council (WQHC), a group of scientific experts, health professionals and consumer advocates that serve as advisors to the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the ACC. “Up to that point, we had been involved in food safety and hospital and childcare center sanitation. When we focused on swimming pool safety, it got a fair amount of attention. So, we started sending a broader message about what goes on in pools and how swimmers also have a responsibility when it comes to pool health.”
Use Your Knowledge and Your Senses!
Since that first survey, the Healthy Pools campaign has discussed many topics related to swimming pool health, covering such issues as increased disinfection violations at kiddie pools and water play areas, proper pool chemistry, common pool myths and why showering before swimming is so important.
Healthy Pools emphasizes using the senses to determine pool safety. First, look at the water to be sure you can see the bottom of the pool at the deepest end. Cloudy water is a sign that the pool is not property treated. Second, you should not be able to smell any odors. If you can, that may mean the pool isn’t adequately chlorinated. Sides of the pool that feel slimy is another indicator that the pool chemistry is off. And finally, you should be able to hear the noise from the filtration system motors in the background.
“As a bather, you should have an awareness of the potential contaminants you can bring to a pool, but you can also use your senses to determine pool safety,” Dr. Wiant said. “I think most people would go to a pool and say, ‘the pool is kind of cloudy today’ and wonder why that is but not carry it further. They would swim anyway. But to have some idea that those things could represent potential problems is a good thing.”
Throughout the years, much of the outreach has focused on the science behind chlorine and how many of the problems we typically blame on over-chlorination are, in fact, misdirected. For example, that strong odor we associate with an abundance of chlorine in the pool is a sign that there are too many outside contaminants in the water and not enough chlorine in the pool. Similarly, while many swimmers attribute their bloodshot eyes to too much chlorine in the water, it may have more to do with an excess of urine in the pool.
By debunking these common myths about swimming pools, and chlorine specifically, the public can better understand the beneficial role chlorine plays in swimming pool health. It also removes the stigma, demonstrates the benefit of proper pool chlorination, and how it can be achieved with minimal risks.
“My concern is the health of the public and that is our message,” Dr. Wiant said. “In a pool, you can filter all day long but if you don’t have a chlorine residual, then you have a big gap in terms of protection. Industry has been very responsible by sending a public health message and not just a marketing message.”
Louisiana Industry Leaders Help Spread the Word
With 35 to 40 percent of the nation’s chlorine being produced here, Louisiana industry leaders have taken an active role in this campaign as well. In 2011, Healthy Pools began distributing free swimming pool test strips, further enabling swimmers to gauge the safety of a pool before going for a swim. As part of this effort, Solutions Through Science (STS), a partnership of the Louisiana chlorine manufacturers and users, mails thousands of swimming pool test strips to the eight Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) offices in the state each year. Anyone who visits is welcome to take one, along with printed material containing the Healthy Pools information.
“Part of STS’s charter is educating the public on the benefits of chlorine in their daily lives,” said Judith Nordgren, Chairman of STS. “Supporting the Healthy Pools campaign by providing swimming pool test strips to LDH offices statewide fulfills that mission, while strengthening our relationships with local state agencies”
Common Threats to Pool Safety
When asked, Dr. Ralph Morris, a public health physician and member of the WQHC, said the biggest threat to pool safety is not showering before getting into a public or semi-public pool.
“Sweat and other organic materials get into the water and provide a breeding ground for bacteria and other viruses. Therefore, it is essential for swimmers to wash with soap before getting into the pool,” Morris said.
Along those lines, parents need to model good pool etiquette and hygiene by making sure their children’s bottoms are thoroughly washed and emphasizing that there is no urinating in the pool. Finally, it is important to teach children to not swallow pool water because although chlorine kills most waterborne pathogens, it doesn’t always do so instantly. This is especially important with wading pools, because most lack filtration systems while at the same time have a more concentrated volume of water. The significance of the risk is increased since wading pools are mostly used by young children.
This year’s Healthy Pools messages will center around the recent uptick in Cryptosporidium outbreaks in the U.S. This parasite causes a diarrheal disease (known as cryptosporidiosis) and spreads when people who haven’t fully recovered go swimming. Cryptosporidium is chlorine-resistant and therefore a challenge to get rid of. If you are sick with diarrhea, it is very important to stay out of the pool. If you have been diagnosed with cryptosporidiosis, it is important to stay out of the pool for two weeks after diarrhea ceases.
“It is so important to teach children how to swim and how to do it in a healthy way in a swimming pool,” Dr. Morris said. “Swimming is an important life skill and it is important that we do it in a safe environment.”
To learn more about Healthy Pools, go to: www.healthypools.org.
Solutions Through Science (STS) is a Louisiana partnership of chlorine producers and users. Established in 2000, STS serves a single voice for eight member companies. STS works closely with the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council and the Louisiana Chemical Association. For more information on STS, visit www.stsla.org.
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