Introducing the CDC Model Aquatic Health Code

CDC's Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC)

This summer, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced the availability of the first edition of its Model Aquatic Health Code. “The MAHC,” as it is known, provides free guidance on the design, construction, operation and maintenance of public swimming pools and spas. Why is such a document needed?

As CDC notes on its website, there is no federal regulatory agency responsible for the proper functioning of aquatic facilities. About 68 percent of local health departments regulate or inspect public swimming pools and facilities. These health departments write and update their codes periodically, expending valuable local resources.  And yet, in 2010, CDC reported one in eight pool inspections conducted in 15 states in 2008 resulted in immediate closures due to serious violations, such as a lack of disinfectant in the water.  Poorly operated aquatic facilities can lead to drowning, recreational water illness outbreaks and chemical injuries.

The MAHC Process

In 2007, CDC convened experts to develop a voluntary, science-based code for safer aquatic facilities.  The idea was to provide a document to which states and localities can refer without having to spend time and money reinventing the wheel when it comes to aquatic facilities. CDC organized a steering committee and 12 technical committees to address important topics including operator training;

Examples of MAHC Recommendations

Operator Training

“A qualified operator of an aquatic facility shall have completed an operator training course that is recognized by the authority having jurisdiction.” (Section 6.1)

Hygiene Facilities

Aquatic facilities shall provide hygiene facilities that include, at a minimum, toilets, urinals, showers, diaper-changing stations, and other hygiene fixtures, as specified herein. (Section

Minimum Free Available Chlorine (FAC) Concentrations

Minimum FAC concentrations are 1.0 ppm for aquatic venues not using cyanuric acid stabilizer; 2.0 ppm for aquatic venues using cyanuric acid; and 3.0 ppm for spas; only chlorine products that are EPA-registered for use in US aquatic venues or spas are permitted.  (Section 5.7.8)

disinfection and water quality; recirculation system and filtration; lifeguarding and bather supervision; monitoring and testing; facility design and construction; and hygiene facilities.  The committees were composed of volunteer subject matter experts from public health, academia, aquatics and industry.  Over the course of its seven-year development, the MAHC invited two sets of public comments, resulting in over 4,000 submissions.  The great majority of these comments, 72 percent, were accepted and incorporated into the MAHC, evidence of a truly collaborative process.

The MAHC process is based largely on the process used by the Conference for Food Protection to create the Food Code.  The MAHC will be updated every two years through the new Conference for the Model Aquatic Health Code, which is being organized currently by CDC, with stakeholder input. The first update will take place in October 2015 in a pre-conference meeting of the 12th World Aquatic Health Conference.

The Public Health Impact

The MAHC is expected to be adopted widely in the US by states and local governments. CDC sets no rules or mandates for adopting the Code:  Some jurisdictions may choose to adopt it in its entirety, while others may adopt only parts of the MAHC.  One thing is for sure:  Developing a model code for aquatic facilities is a step in the right direction for aquatic health and safety. Bravo, CDC and volunteer contributors, on reaching a significant milestone:  The first edition of the Model Aquatic Health Code!

Learn more about The Model Aquatic Health Code.

Linda Golodner is President Emeritus of the National Consumers League and Vice Chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.