Are Public Pools Safe and Clean? How You Can Tell

Are Public Pools Safe and Clean

Swimming in a public pool can be a great way to cool off and have some fun in the summer months. However, not all pools are equal when it comes to cleanliness and safety.

In a 2016 study by the CDC, it was found that 80% of public swimming pools have at least one health violation, and that 1 in 8 inspections resulted in immediate closure of the pool due to health and safety violations. Knowing these alarming statistics, what can you do to protect yourself?

Some key indicators you can look for to determine if a public pool is clean and safe to swim in are: clear waters, minimal odors, not overcrowded, with lifeguards on duty and life-saving equipment nearby. With regards to water quality, you can even bring your own test strips and test the water yourself.

In this article, we’ll provide you with valuable information about how to quickly and efficiently assess a public pool’s cleanliness and safety.

Do a Visual Inspection

Water Clarity

A key indicator of a clean and safe pool is crystal-clear water. According to the CDC, lifeguards and swimmers should be able to clearly see swimmers underwater.

Furthermore, you should easily spot the drains at the bottom of the deep end, as well as any secured and well-maintained drain covers.

Conversely, if the water is not clear, but rather it is murky or discolored, then these are signs that the pool has not been properly disinfected. There is not enough chlorine in the water and bacteria is spreading rampantly, and these visual issues are a symptom.

Pool Surroundings

Another aspect to consider when assessing a public pool’s cleanliness is its surroundings. The pool area should be free of trash, debris, and slippery surfaces. In addition, safety equipment such as rescue rings or poles should be readily available, especially if there is no lifeguard on duty.

Signs of Algae

Algae growth can be a sign of poor maintenance and an unhealthy swimming environment. As a general rule of thumb, avoid pools with any color other than clear blue water.

If the water has a slight greenish hue to it, understand that pool staff did not dye the pool water to make it visually interesting, it is not a St. Patrick’s day celebration; it’s probably algae growth.

Algae is often green, but you can even have pink algae accumulate along the water’s edge.

Overcrowded Pools

If you notice a pool is crowded (hard to miss), then that is a huge risk when it comes to safety for many reasons.

One, you do not know how clean each person is. Did they shower before entering the pool? How many of them are sick? How many of them are sweating, spitting, and peeing into the pool? It can become a literal cesspool very quickly.

Two, an overcrowded pool can become physically dangerous. It’s much easier to run into another swimmer or to accidentally get held down underwater.

Three, the more people there are, the harder it is for lifeguards to keep track of who is actually in distress and who is just being rowdy. It will delay how quickly they can react to a legitimate problem.

Smell and Air Quality

When visiting a public pool, one of the first things you might notice is the smell. A strong chemical odor, such as chlorine, can be an indication that the pool may not be as clean as it appears.

This is because what you’re smelling is not the smell of chlorine, but rather chloramine, the waste product produced after chlorine has been used up. This odor can indicate that there is not enough chlorine in the pool, not that there is too much as many people mistakenly assume.

On the other hand, a well-maintained pool should have a subtle or barely noticeable chemical smell. This is a sign that the chemicals are doing their job and maintaining proper water balance.

Apart from the smell, pay attention to the air quality around the pool. Poor ventilation can lead to a buildup of chemicals and humidity, which can be harmful to both swimmers and pool staff. Ensuring that the pool area is well-ventilated helps keep the air fresh and the environment more comfortable for everyone.

Remember that the absence of a chemical smell doesn’t guarantee cleanliness, so it’s essential to observe other factors as well. One way to do that is to literally test the water yourself.

Test the Water Chemistry

You can always bring your own pool test strips or a digital pool tester to double-check the chlorine, CYA, and pH levels before swimming. By gathering information on pool maintenance practices and taking some precautions, you can ensure a safer swimming experience at public pools.

pH Levels

The pH level of pool water is crucial in maintaining a clean and safe swimming environment. The ideal pH range for a swimming pool is between 7.4 and 7.8.

A balanced pH prevents irritation to the skin and eyes, as well as protects pool equipment from corrosion.

Having the pH be precisely within the range given above also ensures that the chemicals added into the pool are as potent as they can be.

For example, when the pH is too high or too low, the chlorine will not be able to effectively kill germs and viruses that can spread waterborne illnesses.

Chlorine Levels

Chlorine is a vital disinfectant used in public pools to kill bacteria, algae, and other unwanted microorganisms. There are two main types of chlorine levels to consider: free available chlorine (FAC) and total chlorine. It’s essential to maintain an FAC level of 1.0 to 3.0 parts per million (ppm) and a combined chlorine level not exceeding 0.2 ppm.

Cyanuric Acid Levels

Cyanuric acid (CYA) acts as a stabilizer in chlorinated pools to prevent chlorine from rapidly degrading due to sunlight exposure. Proper CYA levels help maintain the effectiveness of the chlorine in the pool. The ideal CYA level should be between 30 and 50 ppm for optimal chlorine performance.

Safety Features and Equipment

There is more to pool safety than just water quality. Even if the pool water is absolutely pristine, the pool itself might not be safe if it lacks these critical things:

Pool Ladders and Railings

Properly maintained pool ladders and railings are essential for providing safe entry and exit from the pool. They should be securely attached, free of rust, and easy to grip. In addition, the steps should not be slippery, and their surfaces should allow for proper foot traction.

Depth Markers

Clear and accurate depth markers are vital in preventing accidents caused by diving in shallow water or stepping into unexpectedly deep areas.

Depth markers must be visible around the entire pool perimeter and be installed at regular intervals. They should also be in both metric and imperial measurements for greater accessibility.

Lifesaving Equipment

Every public swimming pool must be equipped with essential lifesaving equipment to ensure the safety of pool-goers. Some of the key pieces of equipment include:

  • Life rings: These flotation devices can be thrown to swimmers in distress, providing buoyancy and support until help arrives.
  • Rescue poles: Often called shepherd’s hooks, these long poles with a hooked end can be used to reach out to someone struggling in the water and pull them to safety.
  • First aid kits: Comprehensive first aid kits should be available on-site with an abundance of supplies, such as bandages, antiseptic wipes, and resuscitation masks.
  • Emergency phones: Access to a phone or communication device to call for help in case of an emergency is crucial. The contact information for local emergency services should also be clearly displayed.

Lifeguard(s) on Duty

There should always be at least one lifeguard on duty, or multiple if the pool is crowded. More often than not, lifeguards are the people who will use the equipment described above.

Furthermore, lifeguards are the people who are actively keeping an eye out for swimmers in distress. You cannot rely on other swimmers for this job because drowning often doesn’t look like drowning, so people who lack training may not be able to tell.

And if worst comes to worst, the lifeguards can dive into the water and rescue the distressed swimmer. Don’t you feel a lot safer if there were lifeguards on duty?

Having these safety features, staff, and equipment at public swimming pools will contribute to a cleaner and safer swimming environment for all pool users.

Ask About Maintenance Practices

One way to assess the cleanliness and safety of a public pool is by asking about the maintenance practices implemented by the pool’s staff. Proper maintenance ensures that the pool remains a healthy environment for swimmers.

Begin by asking if the pool has trained operation staff, especially during weekends when pools experience heavy use. According to the CDC and common sense, it’s crucial to have competent staff to ensure proper pool management.

Also, inquire about the frequency of water quality testing, which should be done at least twice a day or hourly when the pool is in heavy use.

Some key maintenance practices to ask about include:

  • Maintaining free chlorine levels between 1-3 parts per million (ppm)
  • Keeping the pH level of the water between 7.2-7.8
  • Regular inspections for equipment malfunction
  • Establishing a preventive maintenance program
  • Availability of lifeguards

Check Reviews and Public Health Reports

Public pools must undergo periodic inspections for cleanliness and potential health hazards. Check to see if the inspection results are readily available online for your local pool. This information can provide valuable insight into the pool’s adherence to safety standards.

You can also check online reviews where people share their experiences and opinions about pool facilities, providing valuable insights about the water quality and safety measures taken by the pool’s management.

If you find any reports of illness or dissatisfaction in online reviews, consider it a red flag. Several websites and apps allow users to share their experiences, making it easy for you to access this information quickly. Details about cleanliness and overall pool conditions are often available in these reviews.

When searching for reviews and public health reports, remember to:

  • Pay attention to consistent patterns regarding cleanliness and safety concerns
  • Keep in mind that a single negative review may not necessarily represent the overall pool quality, but may bring up some good points
  • Refer to the local health department’s website or office for official inspection data and reports

By taking the time to check reviews and public health reports, you can gain a better understanding of the cleanliness and safety of a public pool before deciding to take a plunge!

Frequently Asked Questions

Do people pee in the swimming pool?

Yes, like you wouldn’t believe. Unfortunately, some people use swimming pools as an alternative toilet. And while it’s generally safe to pee in the pool, it’s not hygienic nor is it recommended.

Will period blood show in the swimming pool?

No, the amount of blood that comes out will be like a drop in the ocean; it will quickly become diluted and no one will be the wiser. If you cannot tell that people pee in the water, others won’t be able to tell you’re on your period.

What happens if you accidentally swallow pool water?

If it’s the occasional gulp, you’ll probably be fine. If you swallow too much, you may experience diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, among other symptoms. Don’t make it a habit of swallowing pool water.

If you find that you do it often, you need to improve your breathing technique because you are breathing at inopportune moments.

How long does it take for chlorine to disinfect the water?

Most germs can be killed by chlorine within a few minutes. However, some germs can survive for days even in properly treated water. Either way, it’s alarming. If you thought chlorine instantly killed germs, you’re mistaken. And that’s also assuming that there is even adequate amounts of chlorine in the pool in the first place.