The Scoop on Poop

April 11, 2011

(or Is the Water You Swim In, Safe?)

Carrie Tupper
Associate Director, Aquatics
University of Maryland

As the summer season sneaks upon us, many of us will be gearing up to head to the pool to enjoy the clean, clear blue water. Do you really know if the water you are swimming in is clean?

Water can be deceiving. It may look clean when it really is contaminated with germs. These germs may cause Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) which are illnesses caused by breathing, ingesting, or having come in contact with contaminated water. These RWI’s are not only found in swimming pools, they are also found in other bodies of water such as spas, spray parks, lakes and ponds.

Recreational Water Illnesses can present themselves in many different ways, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, and eye, respiratory and wound infections. The most prevalent illness is diarrhea. Germs such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. Coli, Shigella and the Norovirus cause diarrheal illness.

Cryptosporidium is the most common of these germs. It is found in an infected person’s stool and can’t be seen by the naked eye and also has a high resistance to chlorine. Crypto can infect anyone, some groups including pregnant women, young children and those with a weakened immune system are more susceptible to developing a serious illness.

In order to protect our pools and patrons from these germs we must educate our pool operators on safe practices.
These include, but are not limited to:

  • Maintaining proper disinfectant and pH levels according to your local or state regulations
  • Hyperchlorinating on a regular basis to rid the water of disinfectant by-products (DBP)
  • Developing a fecal response plan

While chlorine is an effective disinfectant, there are pathogens, specifically Cryptosporidium, that are virtually resistant to chlorine and other disinfectants. Ultraviolet (UV) systems are becoming more prevalent in the treatment of RWI’s as UV has the ability to destroy the DNA contained in the nucleus of all living organisms. Once exposed to the UV light, the DNA is incapable of supporting normal cell functions which renders the organism non viable.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is committed to the promotion of healthy swimming environments. The CDC provides information for the general public to educate themselves on how to assist in the prevention of a RWI outbreak.

As pool operators, it is our responsibility to ensure a safe aquatic environment for all patrons.
Happy Swimming!

Six Steps of Healthy Swimming: Protection Against Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs)
(Courtesy of the Center for Disease Control)

Three Steps for ALL Swimmers

  1. Please don’t’ swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  2. Please don’t swallow the pool water. In fact, avoid getting water in your mouth. That means you shouldn’t get a mouthful and spit it like a human fountain.
  3. Please practice good hygiene. Take a shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.

Three Steps for Parents of Young Children

  1. Please take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Waiting to hear “I have to go” may mean that it’s too late.
  2. Please change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Germs can spread to surfaces and objects in and around the pool and cause illness.
  3. Please wash your child thoroughly (especially his/her bottom) with a baby wipe or soap and water before swimming. Everyone has invisible amounts of fecal matter on their bottoms that could end up in the pool.


Center for Disease Control: Healthy Swimming

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