RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—They seem innocuous enough: colorful mushrooms raining with cold water on a hot day, and goofy tubes whirling around spraying water. But these increasingly popular splash parks are just as guilty of transmitting recreational waterborne illnesses as public swimming pools.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Idaho, which sickened 45 people, could be traced back to a splash park. And that’s not the first. The largest cryptosporidiosis outbreak in New York State, which ultimately made 713 people sick in 2005, was traced back to one of these splash parks, or “spray grounds.”
THE DETAILS: Public fountains and splash parks (think concrete playgrounds with fountains and other play equipment that shoots out water) aren’t always regulated in the same way as public pools, says Michele Hlavsa, RN, MPH, epidemiologist with the CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program. A splash park, she says, “is basically an underground pool, designed in the hopes that children won’t drown.” The water is stored in underground tanks and sprayed through play equipment above ground, potentially exposing kids to harmful bacteria if the water isn’t properly treated.
And just because you may see kids splashing around in a public fountain doesn’t necessarily mean it was intended to be used as a swimming pool substitute. The water may not be treated at all, but like a splash park, it can expose kids to waterborne illnesses, since all that water washes dirt, vomit, and diarrhea particles into the holding tanks below ground. “The aquatics industry has been very good at finding new ways to entertain us with water, and pool codes don’t always keep up with them,” Hlavsa says.