How to Cool Down and Stay Safe in Public Pools
The cool, glistening water of the public pools is certainly seductive on a hot summer day. But if not cared for and properly treated, these public pools can spread germs that can cause unpleasant diseases and ruin your enjoyment. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe (and cool-headed) in a public pool.
In high school, I thought about joining a water polo team until an insider friend told me that older players intentionally pee and fart in the pool before training to intimidate freshmen. “But the chlorine will kill all the bacteria, so everything will be fine,” she added, noting my horror and disgust. However, I was pretty skeptical (and I never joined), and as it turns out, I was right.
It is not always possible to be sure that there is enough chlorine in the pool.
Chlorine is what gives pools a strong unpleasant odor, but its main purpose is to kill pathogens such as E. coli , Cryptosporidium (Crypto), Giarda and other recreational water related diseases . Usually, enough chlorine helps, so that many harmful bacteria may not be enough to actually cause unpleasant stomach problems, rashes and ear infections in people, just to name a few.
In a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in the weekly report on morbidity and mortality , were mentioned countless public swimming pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds in five states (California, Arizona, Florida, New York and Texas). in case of health problems due to insufficient concentration of chlorine and another disinfectant chemical – bromine . Bromine works in the same way as chlorine, but it is commonly used in hot tubs because it is more stable at higher temperatures .
The CDC recommends at least 1 ppm (ppm) and 3 ppm chlorine in swimming pools and hot tubs, respectively. For bromine, this is slightly more. (These numbers apply to your own backyard pools as well.) But the chemistry of pools is pretty complex.
The CDC report noted that due to inadequate chlorine levels, the next common irregularity was inadequate pH levels. The pH needs to be kept within a specific range ( usually between 7.2-7.8 ) to balance the effective microbial-fighting ability of chlorine and allow you to comfortably withstand the harsh chlorine exposure. When the pH is too high, there is less chlorine available. If the pH is too low it can seriously irritate your eyes and skin (and we’ve all been to the pool where this has happened before).
Other frequently cited violations include poor maintenance of equipment such as pumps, filters, and chemical feed devices that create the potential for the spread of infectious diseases. It’s unpleasant to read, but even the CDC admits in its report that disruptions to the operation and maintenance (and subsequent closure if deemed unsafe) of public pools are common.
It is clear that not all pools are properly regulated, but you can do your own quick inspection to decide if you should dive. For example, if you cannot see the bottom clearly, the pool may not need regular maintenance or cleaning, and you may not be able to clearly see the swimmers in the water either. And if the pool does not even have a life ring or similar protective equipment, then this is a sure indicator that it does not comply with other safety rules in the pool.
You can prevent more pollutants from entering the pool
Regardless of whether the next you plunge pool is likely to be urine, sweat and other bits of rough stuff out there, and there’s nothing you can do about it. However, sometimes the problem lies not so much in the pool itself as in the people who go into it. You can help. Here are some fairly general sensible precautions and tips to consider:
- Stay away if you have stomach problems: yes, this is very obvious and sounds like common courtesy, but it’s a big enough problem that the CDC has written an entire article about it . The really nasty things spread when someone who has recently had diarrhea (contagious for two weeks) walks in. Even if the pool has been properly chlorinated, chlorine will still take a couple of minutes to work wonders, depending on the pathogen. Some microbes, such as Crypto and Giarda, are very tolerant to chlorine. The best way to avoid an outbreak is to simply keep people (especially children) with diarrhea out of the pool.
- Shower before jumping in: Most establishments have some sort of shower by the pool or in the dressing room. The CDC recommends showering for a minute to flush out sweat, dirt, urine, and feces . You probably sweat anyway, but hopefully you won’t pee or poop in the water …
- Seriously, don’t pee in the pool: It might be convenient to pee in the pool, but just don’t . You are a greater health hazard than you think, because urine is not really sterile . It can spread norovirus and other annoyances that none of us wants. And if we have a point about not writing to the pool, read between the lines and assume that not writing is out of the question either.
- Give the kids a regular toilet break: if you have small children with you, it’s important to teach them not to write – oh, who am I kidding. They will most likely do this, but you can schedule regular toilet breaks to help them unwind outside the pool. Just don’t rely on swim diapers to keep these bodily fluids, let alone faeces, out of the water.
- Don’t swallow the water: seemingly obvious, but small licks here and there will be inevitable.
- Use waterproof dressings for open wounds: open wounds make infection easier. If you have anything like a recent wound from surgery or piercing, you should avoid water altogether.
In reality, the risk of contracting recreational water sickness is small, but real. This does not mean that you need to avoid the pool entirely (although you will if you have diarrhea). Just get ready for these Code Browns.
The danger beyond germs
Public swimming pools often pose an even greater danger: drowning. Drowning is the fifth most common cause of accidental death for people of all ages, according to the CDC.
Children between the ages of 1 and 4 are at the greatest risk, so it is important to keep a close eye on babies. Never leave them unattended. Pool Safely , created by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission , recommends:
Designate an official water observer, an adult tasked with looking after children in the water. That should be their only concern – they shouldn’t be reading, texting, or playing games on their phone. Keep your phone close at all times in case you need to call for help, and if a child is missing, check the pool first.
In addition to observing children and other people with limited swimming skills, you should learn to recognize what drowning actually looks like . This is usually not as obvious as it is on the show. The danger of even more in a crowded pool, as when someone has problems, particularly difficult to determine , if all the splashing and move.
More importantly, if you yourself cannot swim or are not trained to rescue someone from a drowned person, avoid playing as a hero and possibly yourself as a victim. Seek help from a lifeguard (if there is one on duty) or an experienced swimmer.
When it comes down to it, don’t delay CPR while waiting for the medical staff to arrive. Even if you’re not quite sure what you are doing ( psst … here’s the video for that ), just start doing chest compressions to the beat of the classic 70s song “Stayin ‘Alive “. In the case of a drowning victim you just pulled out of the water, quick action can reduce the chance of brain damage, according to the CDC.
Whether you are an avid swimmer, someone just looking to cool off at the pool, or a pool owner, you can find more information on the CDC Healthy Swimming website on how to keep yourself and your family safe and get positive pool experience. and every summer.