Safe to swim? Pool inspection records revealedPosted: Updated:
Nothing feels quite like jumping into cool water on a hot summer day -- but before you do your best belly flop, is your local pool safe to swim in?
In May, there was a wave of concern over a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showing up to 80% of public swimming pools, lazy rivers, hot tubs/spas and water playgrounds had at least one violation when last inspected; 1 in 8 resulted in immediate closure of the venue because of the severity of the violation.
This is not to say the CDC wants you to stay out of swimming pools this summer; swimming is the fourth most popular sports activity in the United States and a good way to get regular aerobic physical activity. But the agency does stress the need for you to check the latest inspection reports before taking a dip.
Doing the Detective Work
Problem is: the information is hard to find, and there’s a lot of it when you do. In and around Spokane, there are 267 licensed water recreation facilities, but no central website or database you can use to check up on your local swim spot.
That’s why KHQ decided to do the detective work for you. We worked with the Spokane Regional Health District to pull the up-to-date inspection reports for every public pool, spa, and splash pad. Then we examined each set of records individually to see if there were any problems, and to double check the thoroughness of the inspections. Finally, we met with the people doing the inspections themselves to discuss our findings and understand the challenges they face to keep our swimming water safe for all.
Trisha McClure has been with the SRHD for 17 years; she’s been inspecting water recreation facilities for the last eight. In her role, she’s equal parts chemist, lifeguard and code enforcer, all in the name of a healthy place to cool off. “It’s not a quick walk through,” McLure explained. “We take the time. We study it. We make sure everything is safe for the people.”
What’s really in the water?
SRHD makes unannounced inspections of each pool, spa, or splash pad at least once a year. Health inspectors like McClure then run through their checklist of potential problem spots: there are 14 categories in all, including Water Quality, Filtration, Emergency Equipment, Safety Lines, and Locker Rooms. Each category has its own subset of checks - Water Quality alone has 15 different factors to consider, from pH balances to disinfectant levels.
And it’s the chemicals used to sanitize the water that can cause the most problems. Back in April, a swim team down in Texas was sent to the hospital, after exposure to excessive amounts of chlorine; another 22 people were sickened by chlorine at a Denver swim facility in March. But it’s not enough just to get the disinfectant mix just right: the water needs to be constantly filtered. That’s because when those chemicals mix with "human inputs" (like sweat, urine or makeup) they form compounds called disinfection byproducts. A study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology showed that exposure to these disinfection byproducts damaged cells. This means they may be linked to health problems such as asthma and bladder cancer.
Inspecting the Inspections
So how did our local pools perform? You’ll be happy to know that our review found there have been no critical problems (such as excessive pH levels) that would have required an immediate closure. Where issues were discovered, follow-up inspections show facility staff had addressed the problems sufficiently to pass re-inspection.
We’ve grouped the facilities’ inspection reports into alphabetically for you to review.
Doing Your Part
Health District authorities say even with the surprise inspections, the interviews, and the point-by-point checklists, keeping water safe for everyone to enjoy means pool-goers have to do their part too. Health officials say that you should shower before you get into the pool to help stop the number one problem for pools: Number 2. While the average adult will bring .14 grams of fecal waste with them into the water, kids can bring up to 10 grams of poop on their bottoms, or the weight of four pennies per child. And when you consider the fact that we swallow up to 3 tablespoons of water after spending 45 minutes in the pool, the health threat is very real. The Spokane Regional Health District has launched a Pool Safe Program that has even more (disgusting) information.
Safe to Swim? How to Check Quality of Lakes, Rivers, and Beaches:
Go to these websites to check the quality of natural water lakes, rivers, and beaches.
- Lakes Environmental Map: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/coastalatlas/tools/LakeDetail.aspx
- WA Streams and Rivers Map: https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/eimreporting/Map/Map.aspx?MapType=STREAM&MapLocationExtent=-13868876.4963195%2c5720246.04592406%2c-13019356.7783736%2c6274730.64982124
- EPA Beach Search Map: https://watersgeo.epa.gov/beacon2/
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