Is Your Apartment Pool Making Residents Sick?
The battle cry of the summer swim season will soon be heard across the nation as recreation center and apartment community swimming pools begin to open their diving boards to the public and apartment residents over the Memorial Day weekend. Whether you’re a dedicated lap swimmer, a casual sunbather, or a parent looking for something to occupy your kids, chances are you’ll be spending a lot of time poolside over the next few months
But lurking within the clear and pristine waters of these epicenters of summer fun are hidden dangers that could make your residents sick.
National Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week
The week before Memorial Day marks the ninth annual National Recreational Water Illness and Injury (RWII) Prevention Week. Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools or hot tubs/spas. The theme for RWII Prevention Week 2013 is How We Swimmers Contaminate Pools, and for good reason as public health officials have been getting increasingly concerned over the public’s lackadaisical attitude towards personal hygiene and pools.
How Swimmers Contaminate Apartment Pools
A recent survey found that seven out of 10 swimmers reportedly don’t rinse off or shower before jumping in the pool, making for a potent stew of sweat, urine, invisible fecal matter, cosmetics, lotions, and sunscreens along with the chemicals and bacteria already in the pool water from other swimmers.
It’s almost as if swimmers are treating the apartment pool as a communal bathtub, assuming that the property manager has followed basic treatment protocols, and that their bodies are clean enough not to contribute to the problem. But that’s not always the case as there are no national uniform standards for maintaining pools.
The Number One Apartment Pool Problem is “Number Two”
It’s bad enough that a 2012 survey found that 20% of swimmers pee in the pool. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of all public pools had tested positive for E. Coli, the bacteria most commonly associated with fecal matter.
In the study, the CDC sampled water from filters in 161 public swimming pools, both indoor and outdoor, in the Atlantam, Ga., area. Of those samples, 58 percent showed signs of harmful germs ranging from Giardia, E. coli, and cryptosporidium parasites, all of which are known to cause everything from diarrhea to dehydration to vomiting.
Though the researchers could not definitively blame human waste for the results, they wrote that it “signifies that swimmers introduced fecal material into pool water.”
“It is time to stop treating the swimming pool as a toilet,” Michele Hlavsa, head of the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, told NBC News. “Nowhere else except for the pool is it acceptable to poop in public or pee in public. In other places if we did this in public, we’d be arrested.”
Chlorine Kills All the Bad Stuff, Right?
One popular misconception about swimming pools is that the chlorine will kill the germs and bacteria, therefore making it okay skip a shower before entering or even peeing in the pool. While chlorine does eliminate most contaminates within minutes, some germs can survive in a properly treated pool for days.
And when chlorine comes into contact with high levels of contaminants, it lets you know by emitting a strong chemical smell and causing eye redness in swimmers.
As it turns out, it’s not really the chlorine in the pool that makes your eyes red but the byproducts of the chemical reactions taking place to rid the pool of contaminates.
A well-maintained apartment pool has little odor, as chlorine only really smells when it’s interacting with contaminants. Here are some steps property managers can take to reduce the risk of RWI in their community’s swimming pool.
Maintain Chlorine Level and pH of Swimming Pool Water
The chlorine level and pH of pool water is an indicator of the health of your apartment pool at any given time and the first defense against germs that can make swimmers sick. The free chlorine level indicates how much chlorine is “free” to destroy germs in the water. By maintaining pool water and hot tub water pH in the range of 7.2 to 7.8, you ensure that chlorine will work effectively to kill germs in the water without causing skin and eye irritation.
Most superstores, hardware stores, and pool-supply stores sell pool test strips. If you can’t find any in your area, the Water Quality & Health Council offers free pool test kits.
Resident Education: Tips for Healthy Swimming and Preventing Recreational Water Illnesses
To help protect your residents and other swimmers from germs, here are a few easy and effective steps from the CDC to pass along to your residents that they can take each time they swim in your apartment pool or other shared recreational water venues:
- Keep the poop, germs, and pee out of the water.
- Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
- Shower with soap before you start swimming. A quick 17-second shower before you swim can reduce your contamination of a swimming pool by up to 60 percent.
- Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water (think removing suntan lotion).
- Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
- Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Don’t swallow the water you swim in.
- Parents of young children should take a few extra steps:
- Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes.
- Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.
Swimming Pools are Safe but Kind of Yucky
Just because there’s a veritable primordial ooze of chemical reactions taking place in swimming pools, they’re not necessarily hazardous. The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of realizing that we all share the water we swim in, and we all need to do our part to help keep the water as clean as possible and our apartment residents healthy.
I still plan on jumping into pools this summer. But rest assured that I’ll be taking a shower, with soap when possible, before jumping in the pool.