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Swimming pools need to be cleaned and checked regularly to prevent bacterial failures. 

THE ISSUE

As LNP’s Dan Nephin reported last month, roughly 1 out of 3 state-regulated pools and hot tubs in Lancaster County experienced at least one failure because of unhealthy bacteria levels during last year’s swim season, which runs May 1 through Sept. 30. “That includes pools and hot tubs at community centers, hotels, campgrounds and water parks,” Nephin reported.

We are very pro-swimming. It’s a great exercise that puts little pressure on one’s joints.

It’s also a whole lot of fun. We spent our childhood summers at municipal pools, swimming until we were prunes, emerging only reluctantly when the lifeguards’ whistles blew to signal an adult swim.

We didn’t worry about coliform bacteria counts or pH and chlorine levels. And ignorance was bliss.

Knowing now what we know, we feel compelled to heed reports of bacterial failure — which occur when two parts of coliform bacteria are found in a 100-milliliter pool water sample — in the local swimming pools. We prefer knowing the quality of the water into which we’re plunging.

This is why we found it frustrating to read Nephin’s reporting, which revealed that while “some states make pool inspection data publicly available, only Allegheny County in western Pennsylvania does, and the information is fairly limited.”

Nate Wardle, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, told Nephin that the department is considering making pool inspection information publicly available. But he was unable to provide a timeline or further information.

We’d urge health department officials to turn what seems to be a vague proposal into concrete action. Make pool inspection information publicly available — and soon. This pool season, if possible.

People ought to be able to check — easily — the water quality of the pool they frequent.

According to Nephin’s article, published in the May 26 Sunday LNP, the bacterial failures reported last pool season were at 10 of the 29 swimming pools run by local governments or community organizations in Adamstown, Hempfield, Leola, Lititz, East Petersburg, Ephrata, New Holland and southern Lancaster County.

“The worst offenders are among privately run campgrounds, hotels and condominium associations,” Nephin wrote. “Privately run pools accounted for 116 of the 135 bacterial failures — or 86% — in 2018, according to the Department of Health.”

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park near Quarryville reported 11 bacteria failures at its pools from May through September. Comfort Inn in Lancaster and Comfort Suites in Manheim had seven and five, respectively, during that time (both are run by Choice Hotels). Eden Resorts had four failures.

Tessa Wiles, marketing manager for Jellystone, told Nephin the camp resort had issues with a filtration system last year; it’s been replaced.

Greg Greenawalt, manager at Eden Resorts, said the resort, which has two indoor pools open year-round and one outdoor pool, does chemical readings three times a day, one more than the state requires.

Calls to Choice Hotels for comment were unsuccessful, Nephin reported. And efforts “to reach officials at several public pool facilities — Lititz Springs, Leola Community Pool and Park and Adamstown Community Swimming Pool — also were unsuccessful.”

Officials at municipal pools should be responsive to questions about water quality. Their lack of responsiveness just reinforces the need for the state health department to make pool inspection reports public.

We want people to continue to make use of municipal pools. They are a great asset to a community, a place where children can gather in the summer and a spot where community residents can get to know their neighbors.

So we decidedly do not want to instigate any kind of pool panic. As Nephin reported, most coliform bacteria — the bacteria present in feces, the most significant polluter of pools — are harmless. They just serve as a useful indicator of water quality.

Some coliform bacteria, however, can sicken swimmers, as can cryptosporidium, giardia, Legionella, norovirus and shigella, all of which may be found in pools and hot tubs.

So water must be regularly and scrupulously checked in accordance with state regulations. That means, at minimum, checking the water twice daily for disinfectant levels to ensure a pool’s disinfection system is working properly.

In addition to making pool inspection reports public, the commonwealth should adopt — as state House Bill 1056 would require — the Model Aquatic Health Code, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is, the CDC website explains, “a voluntary guidance document based on science and best practices that can help local and state authorities and the aquatics sector make swimming and other water activities healthier and safer. States and localities can use the MAHC to create or update existing pool codes to reduce risk for outbreaks, drowning, and pool-chemical injuries.”

What’s not to like? We’d urge lawmakers to pass HB 1056.

We all can do our part, too, to keep swimming pools clean. The CDC recommends that we shower before swimming; refrain from swimming if we have diarrhea or an open wound not covered by a waterproof bandage (we’ve never used the word “duh” in an editorial, but we’ll use it here); avoid swallowing pool water (another “duh” seems apt); and don’t urinate in a pool (seriously, just don’t).

A survey released last month by the Water Quality & Health Council found that “more than half of Americans (51%) report using a swimming pool as a communal bathtub, either swimming as a substitute for showering or using the pool to rinse off after exercise or yardwork.” And “40% of Americans admit they’ve peed in the pool as an adult.”

To anyone in that 51% or 40%, we’d say: Please stop. You’re not helping. When the lifeguards signal that it’s time for an adult swim, we’d like to jump in without trepidation.