The Upside of Municipal Budget Woes

I advise you not to read this if your 2010 Memorial Day weekend plans include a trip to the nearest municipal swimming pool. As "Jaws" taught us more than a generation ago, it may not be safe to enter the water -- but for health reasons rather than great white sharks lurking in the shallows.

Just in time for the start of summer, the May 21 issue of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report contains a report summarizing 2008 inspection data from 15 state and local agencies that inspect swimming pools, including health departments in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Washington state. These agencies' inspectors made 121,020 routine pool inspections that year, 73,953 of which found at least one violation. And 13,532 inspections "identified serious violations that threatened the public's health and resulted in immediate pool closure," the report states.

The inspections went beyond municipal pools, encompassing child-care facilities' pools, hotel/motel pools, and apartment/condominium pools. Child-care pools had the highest rate of immediate closures. Hotel/motel pools and apartment/condominium pools had the highest percentage of disinfectant level violations. About 35 percent of the inspections of apartment/condominium pools, hotel/motel pools, and water parks turned up water circulation and filtration violations.

This is a health issue because recreational water illnesses (RWIs), the main ones being an increasing number of outbreaks of gastroenteritis, can result from poorly maintained pools. There were 104 such outbreaks in 1997-2006 that involved chlorine- and bromine-susceptible pathogens such as Shigella and norovirus, according to the report. Combined with an earlier, smaller sample of inspections analyzed in 2002, this report indicates "pool operation violations and immediate closures appear to be common in the United States," the authors wrote. "Although the sampled jurisdictions are not necessarily representative of the United States, the results underscore the public health importance of pool inspections. The results also underscore the potential for inspection data to better inform and direct public health decision-making regarding swimmer health and safety, particularly if these data are standardized.

"Pool inspections are a key part of ensuring pool code compliance," they added, saying 18.3 percent of 2008 inspections summarized in this report noted operator training documentation was not provided and/or posted as required. When pool operators are trained, water quality violations decline, they wrote.

In light of this, keeping city pools closed this summer in response to municipal budget shortfalls may be a blessing in disguise.

Posted by Jerry Laws on May 21, 2010