Thousands of Unsafe Pools, Hot Tubs, Likely To Be Shut Down: CDC Warns
With Memorial Day weekend approaching, and families throughout the U.S. preparing to return to their local swimming pools for relief as temperatures rise, federal health officials warn that many pools and hot tubs nationwide may need to be shut down for serious safety reasons.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 80% of publicly accessible pools and hot tubs may violate health codes.
A report published in the May 20 edition of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report looks at inspection data from 2013, focusing on five different states with the most public pools and hot tubs: Arizona, California,Florida, New York and Texas. The warning was published in advance of “Health and Safe Swimming Week,” which begins May 23.
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The CDC evaluated data from more than 84,000 routine inspections of nearly 50,000 public water venues, including water playgrounds and other places where people swim in treated water. Overall, four out of every five pools and other water venues tested had at least one violation. One in eight inspections was so severe it caused an immediate closure because of serious health and safety concerns.
“No one should get sick or hurt when visiting a public pool, hot tub, or water playground,” Dr. Beth Bell, director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, said in a press release. “That’s why public health and aquatics professionals work together to improve the operation and maintenance of these public places so people will be healthy and safe when they swim.”
The highest proportion of closures was among kiddie/wading pools, one in five of which were forced to close.
The most common violations reported included improper pH balance among 15% of pools, 13% had violations involving safety equipment, and 12% had violations involving incorrect disinfectant concentration.
“Almost one third of local health departments do not regulate, inspect, or license public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds,” said Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program.
The CDC stresses that the rules and inspections of public pools enforce safety standards that can prevent illness, drowning, and pool chemical associated injuries, like poisoning or burns. The agency also calls on swimmers to help protect themselves by completing their own inspection using a short checklist that will identify common health and safety problems.
Health officials recommend, when possible, swimmers test the waters with test strips. The strips are sold at most supermarkets or pool supply stores. The test strips will determine if the pH and free chlorine or bromine concentration are correct and safe.
CDC recommendations suggest at least a 1 ppm free chlorine concentration in pools and at least 3 ppm in hot tubs/spas, at least 3 ppm free bromine concentration in pools and at least 4 ppm in hot tubs/spas, and a pH of 7.2 to 7.8.
Other safety steps swimmers can take to ensure their own safety include:
- Ensure the drain at the bottom of the deep end is visible.
- Check that drain covers are secured and in good repair.
- Confirm lifeguards are on duty at public swimming venues. If not, check whether safety equipment, such as a rescue ring with rope or pole is available.
If problems are found, do not get into the water and tell the person in charge so the violations can be fixed immediately.
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