With Labor Day quickly approaching, many families will enjoy one last poolside outing before summer ends. Unfortunately for nervous swimmers, while the iconic music from the 1975 film Jaws can be unnerving, giant human-eating sharks aren’t the only things to worry about when heading out for a dip.
In the past couple of years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified two public health and safety concerns with swimming pools:
- Chemical safety and related harm from chemicals used in maintaining pools
- Outbreaks of illness (e.g. diarrhea) due to different germs that may be present in water.
Chemicals are added to pool water (e.g., chlorine or bromine) to kill disease-causing germs, maximize the efficacy of the disinfection process (e.g., pH control), improve water quality, stop corrosion and scaling of equipment, and prevent the growth of algae. However, pool chemicals can also lead to injury when mixed improperly or when appropriate personal protective equipment is not used during handling.
Injuries due to pool related-chemicals are not uncommon. In the first six months of 2017—which doesn’t even count the height of summer—the IPC managed 70 cases related to pool chemicals, the vast majority from inhalational issues causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, or from ocular exposures with potential chemical burns.
The CDC has the following recommendations for pool chemical safety:
Educate Yourself about Pool Chemical Safety
- Complete appropriate training or education for use of chemicals
- Read the entire product label or Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on the product, and know what it is for, how to use it safely and hazardous effects
Store Pool Chemicals Safely
- Secure chemicals away from children and pets
- Store chemicals as recommended by manufacturers
- Protect stored chemicals from mixing or getting wet
- Respond to pool chemical spills immediately
- Keep chemicals in their original containers
Use Pool Chemicals Safely
- Use appropriate safety gear such as gloves, safety goggles or glasses and a mask
- Handle chemicals in well-ventilated areas
- Open one product container at a time, and close it before opening another container
- Minimize dust, fumes and splashes of chemicals
- Measure carefully
- Never mix chlorine products with acids, as this can create toxic chlorine gas (a war agent used in trench warfare during World War I)
- Never mix together different pool chemicals or any other substance
Recreational Water Illness (RWI): Infectious Disease:
Besides pool chemical injury, incidents of infectious diarrhea from pool water may be increasing. Swimming-related outbreaks are reported to CDC and are usually caused by diarrheal germs like Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. coli O157:H7. Crypto outbreaks linked to swimming are increasing and are particularly hard to control because the germ is not easily killed by chlorine.
The CDC recommends that those with diarrhea refrain from swimming. Just one diarrheal incident in the water can release millions of germs. If someone swallows a mouthful of this water, it can cause diarrhea that lasts up to three weeks.
When heading to the pool this summer, several simple steps can protect you, your family and friends from germs that cause diarrhea:
- Don’t let children swim when they have diarrhea
- Don’t swallow the water
- Shower before you get in the water, since rinsing off in the shower for just one minute helps get rid of any germs that may be on your body
- Take kids on frequent bathroom breaks
- Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–not poolside–to keep germs away from the pool
Poop in the water is a big deal and requires labor-intensive response protocols to bring the pool back into service. Steps like these can prevent unexpected fecal incidents and stop pools from being shut down – like what happened in Caddyshack.
Have a great, happy, healthy rest of summer!