How to ensure your public pool is not a health hazard

Ah, summer. A time when young and old alike flock to the local pool or splash park for relief from heat.

That is, unless the particular public pool, hot tub or water playground you flock to is among the thousands that are forced to close each year because of serious health and safety violations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency this week detailed inspection data, collected in 2013, in five states that are home to the largest number of public pools and hot tubs: Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas. Researchers examined the outcomes of 84,187 routine inspections of 48,632 public aquatic facilities, including hot tubs, pools, water parks and other spots where people swim in treated water.

They found that almost 80 percent of the time, inspectors documented at least one health or safety violation. More than 12 percent of inspections resulted in an immediate closure, because of a serious violation. About one in every five kiddie pools was closed — the highest proportion among the types of venues inspected. The most common problems: improper pH levels, faulty or inadequate safety equipment and improper concentration of disinfectants.

“Environmental health practitioners, or public health inspectors, play a very important role in protecting public health,” Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, said in announcing the findings. “However, almost one-third of local health departments do not regulate, inspect or license public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds. We should all check for inspection results online or on site ... and do our own inspection before getting into the water.”

How to do your inspection?

The CDC recommends parents of young swimmers use a test strip available at most superstores or pool-supply companies to determine whether the pH and the concentrations of chlorine and bromine are at appropriate levels in the water. In addition, officials recommend ensuring the drain at the bottom of the deep end of a pool is visible and in good shape, that lifeguards are on duty and that safety equipment such as rescue rings are readily available.

So, happy swimming. And maybe think twice about the kiddie pool.

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