5 Gross Things You Didn’t Know About Public Pools and Tips to Keep You Healthy

CDC data on public pools will surprise you—here’s what you should do about it


As summer approaches and the heat gets more intense, people around the country will be headed to their local pools. Before you put on your bathing suit and pack your towel, though, there are some things you should know about the cleanliness of your public pool’s water. The CDC has been compiling data on pool safety for years—here are some of the gross things they found and what they say you should do about it.

Chlorine does not kill germs instantly. “There are germs today that are very tolerant to chlorine and were not known to cause human disease until recently,” says the CDC website. “Once these germs get in the pool, it can take anywhere from minutes to days for chlorine to kill them. Swallowing just a little water that contains these germs can make you sick.”

Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) have been on the rise in the past 20 years. The CDC describes the rising number of RWIs as “substantial” and notes that although some germs are resistant to chlorine treatment, proper chlorine levels are important for health and safety.

Many public pools aren’t meeting safety standards. A study done by the CDC in 2010 found that “1 in 8 public pool inspections resulted in pools being closed immediately due to serious code violations such as improper chlorine levels.”

A CDC study found fecal contamination in 58 percent of pool filters tested. The study published in 2013 concluded that “feces are frequently introduced into [public] pool water by swimmers” who either “have a fecal incident in the water or when feces rinse off of their bodies because they do not shower thoroughly before getting into the water.”

The smell you associate with chlorine is actually the smell of chlorine working to fight off the germs and microbes in the water. That smell means the chemicals in the pool are working hard to combat all of the gunk people have brought into the water.

Tips to Keep You Healthy

With the above information in mind, the CDC put together a guide to keep you healthy and safe while swimming this summer.

Look… at the pool and surroundings. What should you notice?

  • Clean and clear pool water; you should be able to clearly see any painted stripes and the bottom of the pool.
  • Smooth pool sides; tiles should not be sticky or slippery.
  • No odor; a well-chlorinated pool has little odor. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem.
  • Pool equipment working; pool pumps and filtration systems make noise and you should hear them running.

Ask… questions of the pool staff.

  • What specialized training did the staff take to prepare for working at or operating the pool?
  • Are chlorine and pH levels checked at least twice per day?
  • Are these levels checked during times when the pool is most heavily used?
  • Are trained operation staff available during the weekends when the pool is most heavily used?
  • What was the health inspector’s grade for the pool after its last inspection?

Act… by being proactive and educating others.

  • Learn about recreational water illnesses and educate other users and your pool operator.
  • Urge your pool management to spread the word about RWIs to pool staff and pool users.
  • Let your pool operator know that the health and well-being of all swimmers is a priority for you.
  • Check the pool water yourself for adequate free chlorine (1-3 parts per million) and pH (7.2-7.8) levels. Pool and spa chlorine test strips are available at local home improvement stores, discount retailers and pool supply stores. If you want to practice using them at home, visit the page on pool and spa test strips home test instructions.

Practice…. healthy swimming behaviors.

·         Keep the pee, poop, sweat, and dirt out of the water.

  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before you get in the water.
  • Don’t pee or poop in the water.
  • Don’t swallow the water.

Every hour—everyone out!

  • Take kids on bathroom breaks.
  • Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area–not poolside–to keep germs away from the pool.
  • Reapply sunscreen.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.

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