Contaminated pools Swimming health risk: Inelegant subject can't be taken lightly when serious illness is a threat.

July 31, 1998

A PROMPT response is required whenever swimming pools become contaminated. Nine times in recent weeks, pools in Columbia in Howard County have had to be closed after fecal material was discovered. It happened again Monday at the county pool in Ellicott City. Each time, the pools were quickly closed and cleaned.

No one is sure why this seems to be happening more often this summer in Howard County; other metropolitan jurisdictions have not reported many cases. The incidents have raised fears of pranksters.

Typically, though, such contamination results accidentally when a child fails to get to the bathroom in time.

A 2-year-old girl died in Atlanta after becoming one of 26 children to contract an E. coli infection from a contaminated kiddie pool at a water park last month. One of the children who recovered was shown repeatedly on the telecast of this month's baseball All-Star Game because his father was a player for the Atlanta Braves. It was the nation's first reported incidence of E. coli contamination in a chlorinated pool.

The rash of pool problems locally has spurred action by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It is considering a new policy requiring pool managers to report contamination incidents to inspectors.

The health department should issue guidelines on how swimming pool contamination should be handled. Places that depend on the pools for revenue might otherwise be tempted to "super chlorinate" and reopen them before it's clear that pathogens in the water have been eliminated.

Lifeguards and pool managers say more babies are swimming with their parents in adult pools. Parents must consider every safety concern. That includes taking their children to the bathroom before they enter the pool and keeping rubber pants on babies while they're in the water.

The problem may occur in a place associated with summer fun and recreation, but it is a serious health matter.

Pub Date: 7/31/98

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