Some­thing in the wa­ter?

Find out which Fresno area pub­lic pools had vi­o­la­tions, clo­sures

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY TIM SHEE­HAN tshee­[email protected]­nobee.com

When the high tem­per­a­tures of sum­mer come around each year, one way that many apart­ment-dwellers cope is to take a dip in their com­plex’s swim­ming pool or seek refuge at a pub­lic pool or wa­ter park.

But when dozens or even hun­dreds of res­i­dents are shar­ing the pool, what as­sur­ance do you have about how clean or healthy that wa­ter is?

And how much pee could be in that pool? Short an­swer, up to 20 gal­lons (yes, re­ally) – yet that’s not a rea­son for clos­ing a pool. But more on that later.

Through the peak of this sum­mer, from the be­gin­ning of May through late July, scores of pub­lic pools or spas around Fresno County have been or­dered closed – some for a day, some for a few days, some for weeks or months – by the Fresno County De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health.

Vi­o­la­tions can range from chem­i­cal im­bal­ances to bro­ken latches on gates, lack of lifesaving equip­ment, or im­proper safety equip­ment on drains or pump­ing sys­tems.

COUNTY NUM­BERS ON POOLS

There are more than 1,300 pub­lic pools that rou­tinely get in­spected twice a year by the Fresno County De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health.

So far, 100 pub­lic pools or spas in­spected by the county since the start of this year were closed for at least some pe­riod of time be­fore be­ing al­lowed to re­open. An­other 34 pools or spas, how­ever, re­mained closed as of late July be­cause the op­er­a­tors had been un­able to cor­rect the prob­lems.

Pools de­fined as “pub­lic” by the county can in­clude those in apart­ment and con­do­minium com­plexes, mo­bile home parks, ho­tels or mo­tels, schools, health clubs, wa­ter parks, city parks – pretty much any­thing that’s not a back­yard pool at a sin­gle­fam­ily home.

Twenty-three health in­spec­tors on the county staff not only in­spect pools, but also han­dle restau­rant in­spec­tions and con­sumer com­plaints.

“There are a few pools that are year-round, but for us the big pool sea­son is from around Me­mo­rial Day in May to La­bor Day in Septem­ber,” said Wayne Fox, di­rec­tor of the en­vi­ron­men­tal health di­vi­sion of the Fresno County Health De­part­ment.

“We try to get our pools two in­spec­tions a year at each of those fa­cil­i­ties, one at the be­gin­ning of the year to make sure ev­ery­thing’s right and ready to go, and then we check again dur­ing the sea­son.”

KEEP­ING POOLS CLEAN

Any­one who has a back­yard pool knows that main­tain­ing chlo­rine and acid lev­els and keep­ing the wa­ter clear can be an in­tri­cate bal­anc­ing act.

For pub­lic pools that re­ceive a far higher level of use and have a more strin­gent set of rules with which to com­ply, those chal­lenges are mul­ti­plied.

Mary­jane Day, a su­per­vis­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal health spe­cial­ist with Fresno County, said wa­ter chem­istry is by far the most fre­quent rea­son for in­spec­tors to or­der a pool closed.

“No chlo­rine, that’s the most com­mon, and high pH,” Day said. “A pool is like a baby. Once you ne­glect the chlo­rine, it’s a prob­lem” to get things back in bal­ance.

In­spec­tors use a check­list of code stan­dards when they make their rounds.

The check­list cov­ers test­ing for chlo­rine lev­els that are too low or to high; test­ing the pH, or acid­ity or al­ka­lin­ity level of the wa­ter for max­i­mum per­for­mance of the chlo­rine to san­i­tize, and mak­ing sure the pool has a drain suc­tion cover or vac­uum shut-off valves that meet safety codes to pre­vent a per­son from be­ing held un­der wa­ter by the drain suc­tion.

In­spec­tors also en­sure that the pump and chlo­ri­na­tion sys­tems are work­ing prop­erty; check that spas have an emer­gency shut-off switch; check that there’s a life ring and body hook; and make sure the fence and gate around the pool are in a good state.

REA­SONS FOR CLO­SURE

Causes for im­me­di­ate clo­sure can also in­clude a bro­ken fence or gate sur­round­ing the pool; the wa­ter be­ing cloudy enough that an in­spec­tor can­not see the bot­tom of the pool; loose or bro­ken pool lights, and shower or toi­let fa­cil­i­ties that aren’t in work­ing or­der.

Fe­ces, vomit or blood that are ev­i­dent in the pool wa­ter can also be a rea­son for clo­sure.

Some of the worst con­cerns are when a pool has not been main­tained and the wa­ter has turned green and cloudy with al­gae. “We have a few of those that when­ever we go there, it’s al­ways green,” Day said.

“It’s poor main­te­nance. … When you cant’ see the main drain at the bot­tom of the pool, that’s an im­mi­nent dan­ger be­cause if some­one drowns, you can’t see them.”

Aaron Baruti, an en­vi­ron­men­tal health spe­cial­ist who is among the in­spec­tors, added that green pools are an au­to­matic clo­sure cause for in­spec­tors.

“It’s a real con­cern for us be­cause we’re out there twice a year, and if it’s like that the day we go out there, who knows if it’s a pat­tern?” he said.

And a green pool poses an­other health threat. “They can breed mos­qui­toes, and that’s a whole other is­sue,” Baruti said.

Fox said he’s most con­cerned about the safety fences that pub­lic pools are re­quired to have around them with self­clos­ing gates. He re­called a drown­ing in­ci­dent a few years ago in which in­spec­tors had closed a pool be­cause the fence was bro­ken. De­spite the ef­forts of the pool op­er­a­tor to cover up the holes with ply­wood to com­ply with the clo­sure or­der, “kids kept break­ing in.”

A cou­ple of weeks later, “a child got away from his fa­ther and got through the fence where th­ese kids had bro­ken in, and this child drowned,” Fox said. “That’s one thing I tell my staff: If there’s a prob­lem with the gate or the fenc­ing is bad, close the pool.”

Typ­i­cally, is­sues with chlo­rine or chem­i­cals can be reme­died by pool op­er­a­tors or their main­te­nance ser­vice within a few hours, while re­pair­ing a fence might take a day or two. Me­chan­i­cal prob­lems with pumps, drain cov­ers or safety valves can be more com­plex and costly to solve, how­ever.

But if ev­ery­thing is in work­ing or­der, Fox said, “it shouldn’t take long for a pool op­er­a­tor to keep it up if they’re on it ev­ery day.”

“Pools are pretty ba­sic. Our guys show up, and they’re look­ing at the pool equip­ment, they’re look­ing for the life ring, they’re look­ing to make sure the gates close and lock, and they’re look­ing at the chlo­rine level,” he added. “A pool in­spec­tion shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 min­utes.”

POOLS THAT RE­MAIN SHUT­TERED

Fresno County’s long­est-last­ing pool clo­sure, ac­cord­ing to county data, has been at the Do­rado Apart­ments on West Bel­mont Av­enue in south­east Fresno, where in­spec­tors de­ter­mined in Jan­uary the safety fence was not clos­ing prop­erly.

A sub­se­quent in­spec­tion in April re­vealed that there were still is­sues with the gate as well as a prob­lem with the safety drain cover, and a new fence had been in­stalled with­out ap­proved plans.

Day, Fox and Baruti agreed that whether a pub­lic pool at a park, apart­ment com­plex, school or wa­ter park is open or closed, par­ents must keep an eye on their chil­dren to en­sure their safety.

“They can have all the safety equip­ment, all the fences up, all the chem­istry bal­anced, but if you’re not watch­ing your kid, some­one can drown,” Fox said. “If you get 20 or 30 kids splash­ing around and some­one’s in dis­tress, you may not be able to see that kid in the crowd. … Keep an eye on your kid, make sure they’re safe, and you won’t have a tragedy.”

IS THERE PEE IN THE WA­TER?

Now – about that urine in the wa­ter. A 2012 re­search sur­vey found that about one out of five adults ad­mit­ted to pee­ing in a swim­ming pool. Chil­dren may have even less self-con­trol. Baruti said there’s no won­der chem­i­cal that turns tell­tale blue or red when some­one pees in the pool. Nor is there a test – or even a thresh­old – for urine to jus­tify clos­ing a pool.

But, Beruti added, sci­en­tists a few years ago demon­strated a way to cal­cu­late how much pee is in a pool by mea­sur­ing the chem­i­cal by-prod­ucts of an ar­ti­fi­cial sweet­ener found in sugar-free soft drinks and myr­iad other food prod­ucts that are ex­creted by hu­mans in urine.

Cana­dian and Chi­nese re­searchers de­ter­mined, by test­ing pub­lic pools for the ex­creted sweet­ener for three weeks, that a pool of 110,000 gal­lons could con­tain as much as 8 gal­lons of urine, while a pool of 220,000 gal­lons may have as much as 20 gal­lons of urine.

“It’s amaz­ing,” Day added. “It’s over­whelm­ing how much urine can be in there.”

JOHN WALKER

In a photo from un­der­neath the wa­ter, life­guard Chris­tian Ol­mos dips his skim­mer net into the Quigley Play­ground pool, re­mov­ing de­bris. Quigley was one of 100 pub­lic pools or spas around Fresno County have been or­dered closed “some for a day, some for a few days, some for weeks or months” by the Fresno County De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health. Vi­o­la­tions can range from chem­i­cal im­bal­ances to bro­ken latches on gates, lack of lifesaving equip­ment, or im­proper safety equip­ment on drains or pump­ing sys­tems. Quigley was closed on June 20 for low chlo­rine and cloudy wa­ter that made it dif­fi­cult to see the bot­tom of the pool. It re­opened a day later on June 21.

JOHN WALKER [email protected]­nobee.com

Life­guard Chris­tian Ol­mos dips his skim­mer net into the Quigley Play­ground pool, re­mov­ing de­bris. Quigley was closed June 20 for low chlo­rine and cloudy wa­ter that made it dif­fi­cult to see the bot­tom. It re­opened a day later.

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