Feature Archive

Swimming Pool Safety

The Most Delicate Rule of Water Quality: Keep the Poop Out of the Pool

By Betsy Rubiner
WebMD Feature

After one child died and 25 people were sickened by a 1998 outbreak of an E. coli strain caused by feces-contaminated water at a park near Atlanta, public health officials and public pool operators were justifiably concerned. The conditions pointed up a growing hazard -- and health officials have since acknowledged that even pool operators with the best intentions, pool maintenance, and response plans can't completely prevent the spread of infectious diseases through water contaminated by germ-carrying feces.

"There's still a lot of education that needs to go on with the public," says Doug Brenner, director of an award-winning aquatics program in Portland, Ore. Swimmers -- especially those with small children -- must practice good hygiene to prevent feces from getting in the pool.

Do we really have to talk about this stuff?

Yes, say health and safety experts. While perhaps not yet socially acceptable, talking openly about "poop in the pool" is important to the public's health. The chance of catching an infectious disease in a well-maintained swimming pool is low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But not all pools are properly maintained, and the CDC warns that chlorine can't kill all germs. And crowded lakes can be especially vulnerable to outbreaks of fecal-borne illness.