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Clean pools a dirty business Allison K. Sampité | Sat, Jul 28 2012 12:00 PM

Now that summer is in full swing, hundreds of people are arriving daily at local public pools to cool off. But taking a refreshing dip could mean getting sick if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

The majority of Americans last year swam in pools with a high percentage of unhealthy pH and chlorine levels. A contributing factor is that one in every five people urinated in the pool, according to a recent survey by the Water Quality and Health Council.

While that information may not be news to some, the following could come as a surprise.
Fecal matter is also common — the cause for the majority of pool closures in National City and Chula Vista, according to aquatic officials.

Chula Vista Loma Verde aquatic supervisor Eric Bonney said in a given summer, they typically close two to three times for a half-hour block.

“We try and make sure the parents have toddlers wear swim diapers and make sure kids go to the bathroom (in the restroom instead of the pool),” he said.

National City municipal pool recreation superintendent Jessica Cissel said the primary concern is patron safety.

“If there is accidental fecal matter, whether it’s solid or liquid, we close for 48 hours,” Cissel said. “When that happens we get everyone out of the water and make sure from that time on that our filters run through the 48 hour cycle … we also make sure it’s up on the Internet.”

On any given summer day, Bonney said, up to 700 people visit Loma Verde while at Las Palmas, staff saw 6,700 patrons in June.

The more bodies in a pool, the harder a pool must work to maintain its pH balance.

The easiest way for staff to ensure patrons follow pool regulations is to enforce them as people come in. Rinsing off prior to swimming “gets some of the daily grime off,” including sweat and dirt, Bonney said.

While pool chemicals help protect swimmers from bacteria and other germs, too many accidental gulps of contaminated water could lead to recreational water illnesses, including vomiting, diarrhea and in severe cases, e-coli or salmonella.

The Loma Verde pool has been closed twice this year for a 24-hour period because of dead rats and bones, which Bonney said is likely from sea gulls that fly overhead.

“If that happens … staff must get everyone out of the pool so they can test the levels,” he said. “Preventative maintenance as much as you can do it is impor­tant — making sure all your water levels are correct,” Cissel said.

Chemical treatment and filtration is critical to a pools’ efficiency in order to create the perfect pH balance for patron safety.

The state health department requires staff to keep an up to date logbook, which includes daily checks of chlorine, pH level, water and air temperature, chemical adjustments and water clarity.

The measure of acid and alkaline in a swimming pool is known as the pH level. A pH of 7.0 is neutral, with anything below acidic and anything above alkaline.

While typical state health codes require pH levels to remain between 7.0 and 8.0, the ideal pH level for a pool is 7.2, which is also the pH of our eyes. When levels change in either direction a chemical reaction can occur, causing burning and irritation of the eyes, nose and skin.

Bonney said maintaining the temperature of the pool is important especially on hot summer days when the sun burns chlorine off more quickly, changing the pH balance and making it easier for bacteria to thrive.

“We use testers to check for pH levels and chlorine every hour,” he said.

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