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Pools water safety requires careful attention.

Byline: THE HEALTH FILES By Tim Christie The Register-Guard

It takes a certain leap of faith to splash around in a public swimming pool.

It's best not to think about the sweat, dead skin and other human stuff that's floating around in the water, not to mention the potential for myriad germs that can cause illness. Better to be thankful for the power of chlorine and take comfort in the knowledge that your body will probably be cleaner after a swim than after a bath.

Pools are an essential part of keeping cool and having fun in the summer months, but they also can pose a health risk if not properly maintained.

State law lays out strict requirements for operators of publicly accessible pools and spas that spell out everything from the chemical parameters of the water to the type of rescue equipment needed at poolside to the specifications for pool enclosures.

That doesn't mean those rules are always followed. Last year, Lane County environmental health officials shut down 40 pools and spas because of health violations, representing about 10 percent of all inspections.

That's in line with a recent survey of public spa inspections in Florida, California, Minnesota, Wyoming and Pennsylvania reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey found that 57 percent of inspections turned up violations of state and local regulations, and 11 percent of inspections found problems serious enough to warrant immediate closures.

Earlier studies on public swimming pools turned up similar numbers: about 54 percent of inspections turned up violations and 8.3 percent warranted immediately closures.

The CDC said the inspections document a gap in the training of spa operators: More than 20 percent of inspections cited operators who had not received adequate training.

The vast majority of problems here are resolved through voluntary compliance, said Jeff Lang, the county's environmental health supervisor.

Six county sanitarians keep tabs on 283 pools and spas, from the big city pools in Eugene to smaller pools and spas at apartment buildings and hotels. Operators are required to check the chlorine levels in pools every four hours, and in spas every two hours.

A chemical imbalance is relatively easy to fix, Lang said. But water clarity is a big issue: If an inspector can't see the main drain on the bottom, the pool will be shut down immediately, inspector Scott Kruger said.

The consequences of a dirty pool or spa pose potentially serious health consequences. Nasty bugs such as cryptosporidium, E. coli O157:H7, giardia and shigella can spread when swimmers accidentally swallow water contaminated with fecal matter. Pseudomonas is another water-borne bug that can cause illness.

In Eugene, city crews stay busy year around maintaining safe water in three swimming pools - Amazon, Echo Hollow and Sheldon - and five wading pools.

Chlorine and carbon dioxide are the key ingredients to keep the water clean and comfortable for swimmers, said Dave Lane, the city's facility management supervisor in charge of pool maintenance.

The pools are equipped with automated, computerized systems that monitor the water to make sure that chlorine is destructing biological material in the water, Lane said.

The chlorine "attacks everything that comes into the pool, from perspiration and whatever is on a person's body, to diseases and leaves," he said. And, he said, it leaves a swimmer's body cleaner than if they soap up in the bathtub at home.

The carbon dioxide - the same stuff that make soda pop fizzy - keeps the pH in check for swimmer comfort, Lane said. Crews try to keep the pH between 7.2 and 7.6, about the same as human tears. Without it, the chlorine would make the pools so alkaline it would burn swimmers' eyes, he said.

Crews keep even closer tabs on the wading pools, which are drained and refilled daily. (Health officials say homeowners would be wise to change the water daily in backyard wading pools.)

Chlorine is added to the wading pools until it reaches 3 parts per million, which exceeds the state regulations, which suggest a range of 0.8 ppm to 2 ppm. The chlorine is checked and adjusted every 30 minutes.

"It's the only way we can ensure a safe pool," he said. "Because children are there, we want to be exceptionally clean."

Young children tend to put their hands in their mouths and get water in their mouths, which can lead to illness, he said. And, as Lane so tactfully puts it, "They're going to bring more things to the pool."

Tim Christie can be reached at 338-2572 or


Protect yourself and your children from recreational swimming illnesses by following these tips:

Don't swim when you have diarrhea - this is especially important for kids in diapers.

Don't swallow pool water, and try to avoid getting pool water in your mouth

Wash your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or after changing diapers

Take your kids on bathroom breaks often

Change diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside

Wash your child thoroughly - especially the rear end - with soap and water before swimming

For more information and to take the Healthy Swimming IQ quiz, visit

- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Facilities worker Doug Krovatsch tests water from one of the pools at Eugene's Amazon Pool. Last year, Lane County environmental health officials shut down 40 pools and spas because of health violations, representing about 10 percent of all inspections.
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 19, 2004
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