Recreational Water Illnesses in Public Pools

Information in this post pertaining to the study done by NACCHO and Accu-Tab Chlorination System was obtained at  The information regarding RWI’s was obtained at

In the past few months I have written several posts pertaining to why a vinyl liner in ground swimming pool is best, and what should be considered when thinking about purchasing an in ground swimming pool.  Today I am going to approach it from a different angle to give my argument more validity through another perspective.

A lot of families will take their kids to public pools or water parks throughout the summer.  I have discussed this in another post and written about how having a pool of your own instead of making trips to the public pool will save you time, money and the headache of loading up the kids and driving across town to a crowded public pool.  That is basically where I left it.  I felt that was enough information to get people to consider getting their own pools.  However there is another thing I think you should know about public swimming pools.  What I am about to tell you may help you make the decision to get your own pool.  What I really want you to take away from this is to at least consider not going to the public pool for health reasons.

This post pertains to RWI’s, otherwise know as Recreational Water Illnesses.  These can be the result of not properly maintaining the chemical levels in a pool.  A recent study by Accu-Tab Chlorination System and the National Association of City and County Health Officials or (NACCHO) revealed how Many public pools are out of compliance in regard to their chemical levels in their pools.  NACCHO represents 2800 health departments across the country.  They polled their inspectors on their protocols and experiences in examining recreational water facilities.  The results were very interesting to say the least.

-75% reported a commercial pool that was shut down by their agency within the last two years.

Reasons why these pools were shut down.

-90% said that it was due to low sanitation levels.

-61% said that it was due to the pH being unbalanced.

-53% said that it was a result of cloudy water.

The study also revealed that apartment complexes are one of the biggest offenders.  54% of those inspectors reported that two out of three apartment complex inspections revealed violations.

I know that in my town we used to have a water park that my friends and I would go to when we were younger and it was shut down as well.  You have to think about the amount of traffic that these places see everyday, especially if it is a particularly hot summer day.  Imagine the amount of children in the pool that don’t want to take the time to walk to the restroom fearing that they might miss something fun while they are gone.  Think about the personal hygiene of others that may frequent the same pool as you.  There are no guarantees that everyone in the pool had showered prior to entering the pool, and there are no guarantees that the children or even some of the adults in the pool have enough respect for others to actually get out of the pool to take a restroom break.  These are things that contribute to the problem with RWI’s.  Now you might be curious as to what RWI’s are exactly right? Well this next tidbit comes out of a previous post of mine titled  “Swimming Pool Safety – Recreational Water Illnesses”.

What are R.W.I’s?

Basically, these are illnesses caused by germs and chemicals that are found in the water we swim in.  Some might say that the water they swim in is perfectly safe, because they treat it properly and keep it well maintained.  The number one chemical used to keep swimming pools clean is chlorine.  However, there are some germs present today that are very chlorine tolerant.  In fact, it may take anywhere from a couple minutes to a couple days to kill them.  This is more true if the chlorine levels in a pool are off.  Basically, if there is not enough chlorine to go around then some of these germs may remain.  Obviously germs are small, and it would only take a small amount to make you sick.

How are R.W.I’s spread?
R.W.I.’s are spread by swallowing contaminated water, breathing in the mist from a fountain or other water fixture, or by simply coming into contact with water that is contaminated by these germs.  They are not just found in private swimming pools either.  They can be present in public pools, water parks, water play areas (splash parks),  fountains, rivers, lakes, streams, and even the ocean.  In addition to all that, they can also be caused by chemicals in the water or from chemical evaporation if your pool is indoors.

What kind of problems do they cause?
They can produce a variety of infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, eye, ear, respiratory, neurological, and wound infections.  However diarrhea is the most commonly reported problem.  Cryptosporidium  has become the number one cause of pool related diarrheal illness.  “Crypto” has the ability to stay alive for days on end, even in a well maintained pool.  That is not to say that keeping a well maintained pool is futile.  Although “Crypto” is chlorine tolerant, most germs are not.  So keeping a well maintained pool is the first step toward fighting R.W.I.’s.

How does Cryptosoridium get into the pool?

That is a very good question, unfortunately the answer is not what you want to hear.  Cryptosoridium and other germs enter your pool through feces.  I’m not saying that someone has defecated in the pool, however on average people have about .14 grams of feces on their under carriage. When they get into the pool some of that is rinsed off and enters the pool.  If someone in the pool is already ill with diarrhea their feces can contain millions of germs.  That means that it could only take one person to effectively contaminate and entire pool.  If you have a pool, or even if you just like to swim, then you have probably experienced the almost inevitable instance when you accidentally swallow a mouthful of water.  Even a small amount of contaminated water can make you sick.

What about other R.W.I. germs, how do they get into the water?
A lot of the other R.W.I.’s, such as skin, eye, ear, respiratory, and wound infections, are caused by germs that naturally live in environments, like dirt and water.  If proper disinfectant levels are not maintained in the pool, then these germs can multiply and have the potential to cause illness.  This is why it is important to keep your pool well maintained with the proper amount of chlorine.

So if you are planning a trip to the public pool or splash park please be aware of the risks.  If you have been on the fence about getting an in ground swimming pool of your own I hope this posts gives you the incentive to go for it.  Please keep in mind that at a public pool you are not in control of how the water there is maintained.  At your own pool you will be the one to ensure your family’s safety by keeping the water clean and safe.

For more information regarding the study done by NACCHO and Accu-Tab Chlorination System and RWI’s please visit the links at the top of this page.