This Summer: Dip before You Dive to Help Avoid Recreational Water Illnesses

It’s nearing the end of May, which means: it’s time to get back into the water!  Yes, pool season unofficially starts Memorial Day weekend and there is nothing more fun than spending a day at the pool.

But before diving in, it may be a good idea to know just what you are diving into.  Most pools are properly maintained, allowing swimmers to simply enjoy the water.  However, last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported pool inspection data from 13 states indicated about one in eight public pool inspections resulted in pools being closed immediately due to serious code violations.

Dip before You Dive!

How do you know if a pool is properly maintained? There are hardly enough pool inspectors to go around, so CDC recommends swimmers take matters into their own hands and test pool water before getting in the pool.  It’s easy and free and will only take you a minute. Before swimming, dip a color-coded test strip into the water and check to see if the pH and chlorine readings are at appropriate levels. The pH should register between 7.2 and 7.8, and the free chlorine level should be between 1.0 and 4.0 parts per million (ppm).  If levels are out of those ranges, pool staff should be notified immediately. Pool staff should ascertain and correct the problem; if swimmers are unsatisfied with the pool staff response, CDC recommends they contact their local health department.

Swimmer’s Ear:  Listen up

New “swimmer’s ear” statistics provide a good reason to check pools for adequate pH and chlorine levels.  The May 20 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) notes that “swimmer’s ear” accounts for 2.4 million doctor visits and nearly $500 million in health care costs annually.  According to CDC, pools with proper pH and chlorine levels are less likely to harbor the bacteria that can cause “swimmer’s ear” and other germs that cause recreational water illnesses, including diarrhea and various skin infections.

Free Pool Test Kit Offer

This summer, the Water Quality & Health Council is offering free pool test kits to swimmers across the country. These can be requested online at Kits include three pool test strips and a pamphlet of information, including CDC’s tips for preventing “Swimmer’s Ear.”  We are asking swimmers to return to to upload their pool chemistry results, contributing to an informal survey of pool health across the country.  We’ve even developed a convenient smart-phone application on that webpage to enable swimmers to upload data poolside.

What We Did Last Summer

Last summer, the Water Quality & Health Council provided more than 43,000 free pool test strips to individuals who requested them via the Healthy Pools website.  Data submitted last summer by close to 800 swimmers who had requested the strips indicated that 40 percent of pools had either unacceptable pH or chlorine readings.  We look forward to this summer’s results and further raising awareness of the importance of proper pool chemistry.

Check for more summer swimming tips.

For more information on preventing recreational water illnesses, please visit the CDC website at

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.