Summer Campaign Findings: Better Pool Management Needed

“Swimmers shouldn’t have to flip a coin to determine if the pool they are swimming in is healthy”. These words, from Chris Wiant, PhD, Chair of the Water Quality and Health Council, reflect the results of the Council’s 2011 Healthy Pools Campaign in which swimmers tested their pool waters for pH and free chlorine values. About half of the results uploaded to the Healthy Pools website this summer by 1,500 swimmers showed improper pH and free chlorine values. According to Wiant, “too many of the pools tested were out of the optimum range for protection against waterborne germs and swimmer comfort.”

With a generous contribution from the Hach Company, the Water Quality & Health Council distributed over 32,000 free pool test kits to the public. Swimmers used the kits to test for pH and chlorine levels in pools across the country.

  • 47% of pools had unhealthy pH (outside the range of 7.2-7.8)
  • 54% had inappropriate free chlorine values (outside the range of 1-3 parts per million).

The majority of data (78%) were submitted by backyard pool owners, pointing to a need for better public education on proper pool chemistry. In addition, data were submitted by swimmers at community adult pools (18%), community kiddie pools (3%), and hotel and motel pools (1%).

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), chlorine and pH represent the front line of defense against waterborne illnesses. Routine chlorination kills harmful microorganisms that can cause health-related problems, such as gastroenteritis and swimmer’s ear. A new study by CDC found that swimmer’s ear infections are responsible for 2.4 million health care visits every year and nearly half a billion dollars in health care costs.

Tips for a Healthy Pool:
  • ‘Dip before you dive’: dip test strips into pool water to check levels before you enter the pool.
  • If pH and chlorine levels are outside of appropriate ranges, ask pool managers to address the problem.

In an effort to assist backyard pool owners with pool-related questions, this summer the Water Quality & Health Council included a popular “Ask a Pool Operator” feature on its Healthy Pools website. The public was treated to free expert advice on technical problems dealing with swimming pool maintenance. The Council also works to improve pool management education through its Healthy Pools blog series.

Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.