Feds recommend parents test public pools themselves, King Co says no need

SEATTLE -- There's a good chance your public pool is contaminated with feces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which is going so far as to recommend parents test pool water themselves before letting their kids jump in. But, local public health officials say there's no reason for local parents to worry about King County pools, as long as the water has enough disinfectant.

Earlier this month, the CDC announced that while testing water filters from 161 Atlanta-area pools officials discovered 58 percent of the samples were positive for E. coli, an indicator that feces is present.

The findings suggest swimmers are contaminating pools while swimming or not showering thoroughly before getting in the pool. While results came from just one metro-area, the CDC reported it is unlikely that contamination rates and swimmer hygiene differ between pools in the study and those in the rest of the United States.

None of the samples tested positive for the E. coli strain O157:H7, which is known to cause illness. Still, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause skin rashes and ear infection, was detected in 59 percent of samples and Cryptosporidium and Giardia, germs spread through feces that cause diarrhea, were found in less than 2 percent of samples.

Now, the CDC is recommending parents with small children test pool water themselves before their kids dive in. The Department of Health in Florida's Lee County has echoed that recommendation and is urging swimmers to request free test kits online from the Water Quality and Health Council.

But Seattle & King County Public Health has not changed its procedures or processes in response to the CDC's report. Instead, officials continue to enforce state regulations which require public pool operators test water once a day to ensure there is enough chlorine to kill bacteria. Public health officials also test public pools twice each year at random.

"We're doing what we've always done," said Terry Clements, Public Health's pool program technical lead. "For most waterborne diseases keeping the proper level of disinfectant takes care of the problem."

Seattle's public pool practices are even stricter, requiring water be tested at least six times each day, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation's Dewey Potter. She said all pool contaminations are treated immediately with chlorine and the pool is thoroughly vacuumed. Patrons are not allowed back into the pool for a minimum of half an hour following treatment.

Seattle mother Addie Batchelder takes her 5-year-old daughter swimming at several public pools. She was not surprised by the CDC findings and doesn't plan to test pool water herself.

"You've got a lot of kids going in there and there are going to be accidents," Batchelder said. "If kids were getting ill because pools weren't properly cleaned I might be more concerned."

Clements said parents can help keep pools clean by making sure their kids take a hot soapy shower before they swim and urging them not to swallow pool water.

But Batchelder said those recommendations can be tough to follow.

"We all grow up knowing you're supposed to take a shower before you get in the pool but it's hit or miss as to whether it actually happens," she said. "And when you're playing in the water you're going to ingest pool water. There's no way I can stop my daughter from doing that."

While local public health officials have not officially recommended swimmers test water themselves, Clements said there's no harm in dipping a test strip in the pool before you dip in yourself.

"If that makes you feel more comfortable to use those strips then by all means go ahead," Clements said. "Having kids be able to enjoy water active is always a good idea."