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What needs to be done when there is a fecal incident at a public pool

Nothing puts a downer on a day at a public pool more than learning of a fecal incident, requiring everyone to clear out immediately. Formed fecal incidents pose a risk for spreading germs, including moderately chlorine-tolerant giardia.

It’s important for pool companies to help facilities with public pools understand local and federal policies for handling this issue, know the risks and develop procedures and policies they should follow when an accident does happen.

Susan J. Hilaski, director of standards promotion and adoption at the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, notes the organization’s Recreational Water Quality Committee provides a fact sheet of procedures to be used for the decontamination of public pools and wading (kiddie) pools, and pool companies should champion these guides.

She says the most important thing is that the pool closes immediately, as closures allow chlorine to kill germs and help prevent recreational water illnesses.

Each public pool has its own procedures, but Joseph P. Laurino, president and CEO of Periodic Products, Inc., in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, says pool operators should also check the guidelines from their local or state regulatory agency.

“Protecting the health of the swimmers is the utmost concern, and proper disinfection of the pool water plays an essential role,” Laurino says. “While admittedly an inconvenience, once a fecal incident is discovered, swimmers should be told to immediately leave the water due to safety concerns, and the pool [should be] closed until the appropriate disinfection process has been completed.”

More than Chlorine
It’s a myth that chlorine is the only needed solution when something foreign enters the pool. “What is often not appreciated is that chlorine doesn’t kill everything right away,” Laurino says. “Time is required to kill the germs.”

Michele Hlavsa, chief of CDC’s Healthy Swimming Program, notes disinfecting the water comes from steps designed to kill or inactivate giardia. The CDC offers a free guide on its website with steps that aquatic staff should follow.

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The first step — and this is something that must be followed — any public pool must be closed immediately after any feces is discovered, and only reopened once disinfection is complete.

The CDC recommends to next remove as much of the fecal matter as possible with a net or bucket, disposing of it in a sanitary manner. Remember to clean and disinfect whatever equipment was used in the process.

Laurino notes that one should never vacuum fecal matter from the water.

Once everything is clear, unstabilized chlorine (such as sodium hypochlorite) should be used to increase the water’s free chlorine concentration to two parts per million (ppm) and water at pH 7.5 or less for 25 to 30 minutes. Some state or local regulators could require higher free chlorine concentration, so be sure to check before going to the following step.

Next, make sure the filtration system is operating while the water reaches and is maintained at the proper free chlorine concentration and pH for disinfection.

Once all this is accomplished, with the pool properly disinfected, swimmers are allowed back in the water.

Carvin DiGiovanni, vice president of technical and standards at APSP, says the organization follows these CDC guidelines and recommends all members have the information at the ready.

“There should be lifeguards or other supervisors of the pool on the lookout for problems like that, as it’s their responsibility to monitor,” DiGiovanni says. “The bottom line is, you have to keep the people out of the pool and start cleaning right away.”

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