Health — 22 May 2012

With Memorial Day fast approaching, millions of Americans are looking forward to the summer pool season. Others, however, wouldn’t be caught dead swimming in a public pool – because they believe the water is contaminated with urine, feces, bacteria and germs.

An eye-opening survey found that eight of ten Americans believe that other swimmers urinate in public pools.  A large majority also believe that most parents fail to report when their infant or toddler pooped in their diaper or swimsuit while swimming. The survey of swimmer hygiene was conducted by the Water Quality & Health Council.

“No matter how easy it is to pee anonymously in the pool, swimmers should avoid doing so and take their children on frequent bathroom breaks,” said Dr. Chris Wiant, chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.

To Pee or Not to Pee?

As gross as all of this may sound, there is some reassuring news. While many Americans believe that other swimmers have poor hygiene and even worse bathroom habits, most of those who were surveyed say they themselves make an effort not to spoil the water.

For example, while 81 percent believe that other swimmers urinate in public pools, only 19 percent admit they’ve done it too. And while nearly one in three believe that other people will swim in a pool while ill with diarrhea, less than one percent admit doing it themselves.

Health experts agree that the most basic hygienic step a swimmer can take before getting in a public pool is to take a shower.

“Swimming is not a substitute for bathing.  Too many people unknowingly treat the pool as a communal bathtub,” says Wiant. “It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s important to shower before you jump in the pool to help keep swimming healthy for everyone in the pool.”

“The pre-swim shower removes a lot of the sweat, cosmetics and urine that can mix with chlorine to create irritants in pool water,” said Michele Hlavsa, Chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Healthy Swimming Program. “These irritants, not the chlorine itself, cause red eyes when we swim and the strong chemical smell of some pools.”

The survey of 1,000 American adults found:

  • 32% Always shower before swimming.
  • 22% Never shower before swimming
  • 11% Swim with a runny nose.
  • 8% Swim with an exposed rash or cut
  • 6% Swim when sick with a cold.
  • 58% Of women believe chlorine in pools will turn their hair green (vs. 33% of men).

The Water Quality & Health Council is offering free colored-coded test strips so swimmers can check pH and chlorine levels. Proper chlorine and pH levels help keep pools healthy by destroying germs that can cause diarrhea, swimmer’s ear, and skin infections. The free test strips can be requested and results uploaded by visiting this website. Last summer, the Council mailed over 32,000 free pool test strips to swimmers.

Data submitted by swimmers across the nation last summer showed that 54% of pools tested had unacceptable chlorine levels and 47% had inappropriate pH levels.

The Water Quality & Health Council is a panel of scientific experts, health professionals and consumer advocates who serve as advisors to the American Chemistry Council, an industry trade association.


About Author

Pat Anson, Editor

Pat is Editor in Chief of American News Report. He is a veteran journalist and a former correspondent and producer for HealthWeek (PBS), Nightly Business Report (PBS) and other nationally syndicated shows. Pat has won numerous journalism awards, including a Golden Mike award for investigative reporting.

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