Public pools can be crowded and dirty, posing risks to your child’s health. Here’s how to mitigate these risks and enjoy a cool swim this summer.
While taking a dip in cool, chlorinated water may come as much-needed relief on a hot summer day, public pools aren’t without their downsides. Firstly, there’s the question of safety. Not all pools have lifeguards, and those that do may be so crowded that the lifeguard will be slow to spot a child in need of assistance.
Secondly, there’s the question of cleanliness. Any body of water that’s shared by hundreds of people is bound to contain some germs. Of course, public pools contain plenty of chemicals like chlorine that combat this problem — but is chlorine safe for your child’s skin and eyes, and does it really fight off all the particulates in pools?
The answer is complicated, but fortunately, there are steps you as a parent can take to keep your child safe from both accidents and germs during the dog days of summer.
Swimming Pool Safety Tips
As a general rule, you should always keep an eye on your child when they’re in a swimming pool, even if there’s a lifeguard on duty. If your child doesn’t know how to swim, consider enrolling them in swimming lessons, especially if they’re over the age of four. However, keep in mind that swimming lessons rarely teach water survival skills, so it’s still important to keep watch over your child even if they’re a strong swimmer.
When your child isn’t in the pool, you should ensure they give the pool a wide berth and aren’t running around on its slippery edges. Make sure your child doesn’t dive into “No Diving” zones — and doesn’t dive at all if they don’t know how to. For young children who aren’t strong swimmers, a life jacket is a good idea, even if they’re simply playing in the vicinity of a pool.
Finally, keep in mind that drowning often doesn’t look how you would expect. Most children who are drowning don’t splash around or cry for help; rather, they’re often silent and still in the water, which is why it’s vital for adults to keep watch at all times.
Are Swimming Pools Full of Germs?
On top of the risk of drowning, many parents are also concerned about the cleanliness of public pools — and they’re right to be. If you or your child has ever emerged from a pool with red eyes, that’s likely not due to chlorine. Rather, it’s caused by the chloramines that emerge as chlorine breaks down contaminants such as, yes, urine and fecal matter.
In a study published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, researchers monitored public pools for acesulfame potassium (ACE), an artificial sweetener that the human body can’t break down and thus excretes in urine. They found that the concentration of ACE in pools was 570 times greater than in tap water, and they estimated that public pools contain anywhere from eight to 20 gallons of urine.
Unfortunately, chlorine can only do one thing at a time, which means that when it’s busy breaking down urine and feces, it may miss something even more ominous, like E. coli. This means parents need to be especially wary of the cleanliness of the water in which their kids are swimming.
One way to ensure the public pool your child is swimming in is clean is to check to see whether the pool has a health inspection score. In most states, public pools are checked by the health department, much like restaurants are. Many of these scores are available online or can be checked by contacting your local health department. You can also measure the chlorine level in a pool yourself with a small test strip — a clean pool should contain between one and three parts per million and have a pH between 7.2 and 7.8.
If you have additional questions about pool safety, or if your child has sensitivities or conditions that may make pools unsafe for them, feel free to reach out to Kids’ Health to schedule an appointment to talk to one of our experienced pediatricians. Everyone on our staff is dedicated to helping your child reach their best every season of the year, and swimming pool season is certainly no exception. Contact us today.