Pool closings raise concerns Officials to tighten policies on dealing with contamination

July 28, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Responding to a child's death in Atlanta and a rash of pool closings in Howard County, Maryland officials are planning to tighten procedures for how public pools deal with contamination.

Health officials might ask pool managers to regularly report incidents to state health inspectors, which does not occur now. They also might recommend pools be closed as long as a day after an incident, ensure that all pool employees are properly trained to clean a contaminated pool and warn parents to keep children with diarrhea or upset stomachs out of the water.

"Because of the more recent incidents, it's clear we need to have more clearly written procedures and policies for people to follow," said David Roberts, chief of the Division of Community Services with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "There's more people, which means more pool use, and there are more pathogens emerging that can be very serious."

Roberts said his agency hopes to issue written guidelines in the next few weeks.

The only county-owned pool in Howard was closed yesterday after an incident. It was the ninth time the Roger Carter pool in Ellicott City has been closed this summer. The pool is expected to reopen today.

Four Columbia pools, run by the private Columbia Association, have been temporarily closed nine times in the past few weeks.

In Atlanta, 26 children contracted an E. coli infection after swimming in a kiddie pool at a water park last month, and last week one of those children, a 2-year-old girl, died.

It was the nation's first reported incidence of E. coli contamination in a chlorinated pool.

When there is an incident of defecation or vomiting, most pools sharply increase the chlorine levels of the water -- an action known as "shocking" the water or "super chlorinating." But health officials say the danger might lie in allowing people back into the water too soon.

In most of the recent incidents in Maryland, pool operators have kept the pools closed for up to six hours. Roger Carter closed for a full day yesterday. "After the Atlanta incident, we're not fooling around and taking any chances," said an assistant pool manager at Roger Carter, who asked not to be named.

But many pool operators say to close a pool for an entire day would cost money.

"If you have an incident at 10 a.m., you can imagine you need an armed guard and alligator to keep people out," said William Clarke, supervisor of recreational hygiene for Baltimore County's health department, which oversees Baltimore County's 310 public pools.

Officials in Baltimore and in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties reported yesterday fewer than a dozen incidents this summer.

State health officials say they will look into the comparatively high incidence of Howard County problems. They say the number may partly result from increased public awareness of incidents and dangers.

While almost every pool has at least one incident a summer, lifeguards and pool managers say, the number of toddlers and infants swimming with their parents in the adult pools appears to be increasing. All pools require toddlers and infants to wear rubber pants or a swim diaper, but those sometimes leak, causing an evacuation of the pool.

"We were here one day when they closed this pool because of an incident," said Gina Stanley, 31, who takes her four children to the River Hill pool off Trotter Road in Columbia at least four times a week. "It was inconvenient because we had to pack ourselves up and go home, but it's better than swimming in there."

One 33-year-old woman who swims at the River Hill pool said she's stopped going with her two school-age children to pools where there are babies or infants because contamination worries her.

"Where there are more people, there's more chance of an incident," said the woman, who refused to give her name because she knew one of the children who defecated a few weeks ago in Columbia's Dickinson pool and caused it to close. "You have to get out of the pool and you don't want to get back in because it's contaminated."

Maryland health officials say they have received no reports of E. coli bacteria in chlorinated pools. This summer, an outbreak of Pseudomonas -- bacteria that cause a skin rash -- occurred at a public spa in Washington County. Five years ago, an outbreak of Giardia -- an intestinal parasite commonly found in fecal matter -- occurred in a Prince George's County pool.

State health officials say they want to see more pools post fliers telling people to ask their children if they have to go to the bathroom or to keep swim diapers or rubber pants on them to avoid incidents.

"Now there are moms all over the pools with little tykes flipping all around," Clarke said. "A kid can't control himself and those diapers can leak, which can lead to trouble for everyone."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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