Don't swim in poop
Posted: July 13th, 2011 - 7:42pm
It's about to get really hot in Raleigh. Today's high is 100F (38C in Canadian terms) and with humidity it's going to feel like 110F.
When I was growing up, no one we knew had air conditioning or a pool. The only relief for a Southern Ontario heatwave was to hit the Donald D. Summerville pool on the beach (I can't remember ever swimming in Lake Ontario) or the wading pool at Kew Gardens (right, exactly as shown).
Playing in that wading pool is the extent of my spray park/splash pad experience. I have a vivid memory of encountering poop as I pretended to snorkel in the 18" of water.
I didn't realize the cultural significance of that event until I saw Caddyshack.
As Toronto dealt with excessive heat this past weekend, new procedures employed by public health officials to reduce the risk of waterborne illness were challenged. Wading pools and other sites that use recycled, non-circulated water were drained (and refilled) every four hours. The pools had typically been open for 5 hours or more per day, chlorine checked hourly, and immediately closed and refilled if the water began to appear cloudy (or poop was found). The clean start is meant to provide a chance for staff to address any of the visible doody-that-looks-like-a-chocolate-bar events as well as the sneakier hard-to-see smaller release of bacteria, virus and parasites from tiny swimmers.
According to the Toronto Star on Sunday July 10,
"Parents are unhappy that Ontario’s new water treatment guidelines could mean less pool time for their kids.
At Leslie Grove Park, where temperatures soared to 31C on Sunday afternoon, parents struggled to understand the shorter hours.
“I’ve never noticed anything dirty in this pool and I’ve been coming here since I was young,” said Alyshia Williams, who stood in the wading pool to escape the heat while watching her niece play. “It’s a good way for the kids to be outside and cool off a bit.”
I'm not too sure of the significance of four vs. five hours between refills, and neither is Toronto Public Health (TPH). A TPH spokesperson was quoted as saying, "Discussions between Toronto Public Health and Ministry [of Health and Long-Term Care] staff today confirm that the choice of four hours is a best-practice recommendation and is not based on any specific scientific evidence of health risk associated with less frequent water changes."
Just like food handling recommendations, wading pool and spray park best practices need to be based on evidence.
As a parent of a couple of little kids, I don't take my kids to non-circulated pool at all, regardless of refilling practices. The risk is too great for me; that decision is built on a lot of evidence.
Annually, there are outbreaks linked to spray parks and wading pools across North America. Part of the problem is that one of the more prevalent pathogens, cryptosporidia, is passed through poop and can survive in chlorinated water. Norovirus and pathogenic E. coli also seem to pop up as culprits every summer.
In mid-June, 15 children in Alabama acquired E. coli O157 after visiting a spray park that used recycled water.
Cryptosporidia illnesses were linked to multiple water parks across the midwest in 2007; 1,902 cases were confirmed in Utah alone, the vast majority linked to spray parks, wading pools and other public swimming sites.
In March 2008, Great Escape Lodge water and spray park in Queensbury, New York was linked to a norovirus outbreak. Over 400 Children who had visited the park became ill with diarrhea, nausea and abdominal cramps.
Kids are poopy (at least my kids are) and having that poop float throughout a wading pool increases risk of illness, regardless of how often it's drained.