Under Pressure

In a scene from the classic movie Caddy Shack, the staff is enjoying a day off in the water. Guests scatter as the wild staff members take over the pool and hilarity ensues.

Then, someone drops a Baby Ruth candy bar into the pool, which now looks like “doo-doo”, the immortal word one of the surprised swimmers screams when he comes face to face with it.

Later, the Bill Murray groundskeeper character is shown standing in the deep end of the pool after it has been drained, busily disinfecting the floor and walls of the pool. I needn’t tell you the rest, as the best punchline happens at this point. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, rent the movie.

The imaginary scenario created in the film actually happens in pool complexes all over the country. Unfortunately, it’s the real thing floating in our pools. With the increase of human defecation in our pools, by accident or on purpose, this incident has potentially profound implications for public safety at pools.

Invisible Enemy

The presence of E. coli bacteria in the water, no matter how small, is a clear and present danger to the public. Prompt action is critical to ensure the safety of people using the pool.

The infected pool or pools should be closed immediately. In cases where there are two pools sharing a common filtration system both pools should be closed. The closing of any pool for public health and safety has social, political and financial impacts on the community.

Recreational Water Illness (RWI), as defined by The Center for Disease Control, refers to some very serious infection that can be caused by particular strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli.

Hundreds of these strains of E. coli live within the digestive tracts of humans and animals without any ill effect, and are known as serotypes. The strain that produces a toxin that is harmful to humans is called enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) or verotoxin positive E. coli. The most commonly isolated EHEC strain is E coli 0157.H7.

Children under the age of five and adults over 65, when infected with the E. coli 0157.H7, are more likely to manifest complications than healthy adults.

The symptoms of EHEC infection usually consist of bloody diarrhea, fever and weakness, or passing small amounts of urine. In extreme cases kidney problems, such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), can lead to death. The public should always remember that pool water shared by everyone is not drinkable.

The germs associated with RWIs can be controlled by the proper use of chemicals within the pool environment. However chlorine doesn’t always work right away. Chlorine in conjunction with proper pH levels can kill most bacteria, viruses and parasites. Germs like Crypto that cause RWIs sometimes live in pools for days. Pool operators must always remember that even the best maintained pools can spread illness.

When someone purposely defecates in a public pool, it is a criminal act that has a tremendous impact on the patrons and the staff. However, this can be very hard to diagnose and prove.

The most common fecal accidents are caused by leaky diapers that have not been properly fitted to the children and allow fecal matter to escape.

Manufacturer claims that these diapers are safe for public pool use are not supported by any governmental agency.

Any diaper that allows water to enter allows fecal matter to exit. Combining a pool diaper with rubber pants that have elastic around the legs and waist is probably the best solution to this problem.

How should your staff treat fecal accidents within your pool’s environment? Proper training of your pool staff in handling a fecal accident is crucial to the operation and safety of your pool complex.

Procedures in place should be consistent with your local health department’s codes or recommendations. Also, the CDC and EPA have promulgated recommendations for fecal accidents.

Step One — Treating the Immediate Problem

1. Remove all patrons from the pool immediately and start emergency procedures for fecal accidents or contaminated pool water. This must be a published brochure available to all staff.

2. If the stool is firm, remove it immediately with a net and dispose of it accordingly.

3. Sterilize the net by immersing it into a chlorine solution in a bucket or slop sink and rinsing it thoroughly.

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