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Most Pools and Spas Are Contaminated – A Solution Exists

It’s become a rite of spring. Every year, for at least the last three years running, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) releases information about the spread of waterborne illnesses through contaminated water in pools, spas, and splash pads. The reports mainly focus on the risk of infection from Cryptosporidium and other pathogens. The information is then picked up by scores of news outlets across the country and often run with sensational headlines about “poop in pools.”

It’s scary, disgusting, and this year has been no exception. As an example, on May 17, 2018, CBS News released a chilling report on its website:

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that a third of the outbreaks over a 14-year period occurred at hotel swimming pools. The report, published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, looked at data from 2000 through 2014 and found that 493 outbreaks were reported, resulting in at least 27,219 illnesses and eight deaths.

Cryptosporidium, also known as “crypto,” a parasite tough enough to survive even in properly maintained pools, was the most common cause of illness. Crypto was responsible for 58 percent of outbreaks, and 89 percent of all illnesses, where a germ was identified linked to pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds.

As is common for these types of news reports, it goes on to list preventive measures that will help keep crypto out of the water in the first place. Those recommendations include:

Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea. If crypto is the cause of the diarrhea, wait until 2 weeks after diarrhea has stopped to go swimming.

Don’t swallow pool water.

Take kids on bathroom breaks hourly, and change diapers in a diaper-changing area away from the water.

Before swimming, check the facility’s inspection score. Use a test strip from your local retailer or pool supply store to check if the water’s pH and bromine or free chlorine levels are correct before getting in the water.

(Read the full article at

There’s no doubt those recommendations if followed by the bathing public will help, although I do find it a stretch to imagine parents toting their own test strips poolside to check for pH and sanitizer levels. The problem is that all it takes is one infected person in the water to result in scores of infections. It’s also worth noting that testing for crypto takes 10 to 14 days and costs $350 per test. In most, or all, cases, the presence of crypto is only known after someone gets sick.

The far more powerful bottom line is that we should be working together across the board to present the true solution, the ability to sanitize chlorine-resistant pathogens before someone becomes ill.

The Solution Exists

Frankly, what sets my teeth on edge is in knowing that the CDC is already promoting the fix – the use of secondary sanitization methods (i.e., ozone and/or UV) as described in its Model Aquatic Health Code. Unfortunately, there’s obviously a common failure to offer that solution when reporting the scary news about infectious outbreaks. Or, maybe the news outlets themselves are not including that information. Either way, these reports tell only half the story.

Yes, outbreaks of crypto, as well as E. coli, Legionella, and Pseudomonas, are far too common, but the public is not hearing that the technology to eliminate those outbreaks exists and is being used on many pools and spas already. Instead, what we’re left with is a media frenzy aimed at stoking fear and keeping families away from pools and spas.

While I applaud the spread of information that helps keep the public safe, and we all should be concerned with hygiene when using public aquatic facilities, the spread of fear is needless and I think shameful. Technologies such as ozone and UV are readily available and proven to control water-related illnesses. Isn’t it in everyone’s shared interest to spread the word that the solution exists, rather than promoting fear and avoidance?

As it stands, we find out that a pool or spa is contaminated only after someone gets sick. That is a status quo that cannot be allowed to stand. We have the answers, and I believe it’s time that as an industry we swim against the annual tide of disturbing information with the message that we have the way to a fix. Now if we can only find the will.

the Water Geek


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A blog about all things water, written by SRK's founder Steve Kenny.