RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS PA—Public pools across the country will be opening for the summer season this Memorial Day weekend, but a recent survey could make you think twice about jumping in. According to the poll, almost half of swimmers admit to one or more behaviors that contribute to an unsanitary pool. And you’ve probably suspected as much, since the poll also shows 84 percent of us believe our fellow swimmers participate in unhygienic pool behavior.
THE DETAILS: The poll of 1,000 adults was conducted in late April and early May of this year by the Water Quality and Health Council, a body of scientific and other experts who advise the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association. One in five respondents (17 percent) admitted to urinating in the pool, while almost eight in ten (78 percent) are convinced that their fellow swimmers are guilty of this act. Plus, about a third (35 percent) jump in without showering first, and three-quarters (73 percent) think other swimmers do the same. Even though most people seem wary of the hygienic standards of the swimmers around them, only 36 percent say that pool water cleanliness is on their mind when they take the plunge.
WHAT IT MEANS: Besides being just plain gross, filthy pool practices can lead to unsafe swimming conditions. Urine—as well as sweat and even sunscreen—contain nitrogen, which eats up a pool’s free chlorine. Free chlorine is what kills waterborne germs that could make you sick if ingested. So if too many people are peeing in the pool or diving in while sweaty, that could mean less chlorine’s available to wipe out nasty critters.
Even when chlorine levels are at proper levels, some illness-causing organisms can survive. For example, about two-thirds of all recreational water illnesses (or RWIs) are caused by Cryptosporidium, a chlorine-resistant microorganism that causes diarrhea. “Crypto can survive for as many as 10 days, even in a well-maintained pool,” says Michele Hlavas, Epidemiologist in the Division of Parasitic Diseases for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).” Which is why swimmers need to take on some of the responsibility for maintaining the safety of their pools. “Pool operators can’t do it all by themselves, as it’s the swimmers who bring the parasites into the water,” says Hlavas. “Swimmers have to get invested in keeping their pool clean and keeping themselves healthy.”