How clean are public pools?

Your hygiene habits can impact chlorine levels

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – A new survey shows that about half of Americans don't practice proper swimming pool hygiene.

The new survey published by the Water Quality & Health Council found that 48% of Americans don't shower before getting in a pool, 40% admitted to peeing in pools as adults and 24% said they would go swimming in a pool within one hour of having diarrhea.

Splash Valley Water Park in Roanoke County has 50,000 visitors every year, so employees said testing chlorine levels every two hours is an important part of the job.

Environmental Health Supervisor Cindy McDow works with the Virginia Department of Health. She said in addition to pee and human feces, sweat, makeup and deodorant can also mess with the chlorine balance, making it less effective.

"When you don't shower before entering the pool, you're putting all the dirt and the sweat into the pool," McDow said. "It's making the chlorine work even harder to get rid of all that. So, it's reducing your chlorine. If your chlorine is low to begin with, it's going to use up all your chlorine. And then, again, we're going to fall below the level that you want to sanitize the pool."

Questions have surfaced about the survey's accuracy. The council that released the survey is sponsored by a chlorine industry advocacy group. Though McDow said she wouldn't be surprised if the numbers are that high.

"Definitely, people pee in the pool. I think that's a given and unfortunately, it's not just children," McDow said.

Public pools are required to test chlorine and pH levels and post them each day. If you don't see them posted, that's a red flag. Chlorine should be between 2 to 5 parts per million and pH between 7.2 and 7.8.

Don't swim in a pool if the water's cloudy and you can't see the bottom. That means the water isn't filtered enough and it's a safety hazard. You could jump in and not see if someone's at the bottom of the pool.

Take bathroom breaks, just hop out of the pool first.

McDow said you are sick or have diarrhea, avoid the pool for 24 hours after symptoms subside.

"Also, you don't want to go in with cuts, open wounds," McDow said.

The easiest tip is to rinse off before and after you dive in the pool.

The Department of Health tests public pools once a year at the beginning of the season. If you're concerned during the summer, you can contact the department. You could also bring your own chlorine test kit with you to the pool.

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